Thursday 09. February to Thursday 16. March 2017

Memory of the Future

Graham Robinson

Opening Reception / Vernissage: Thursday 09. February 2017 18:00

Canadian artist Graham Robinson’s exhibition ‘Memory of the Future’ illustrates his journey from a personal low point to a happier present, a process in which making art was an important therapy. His images present a world beyond urban civilization, an intense, wild environment which his figures explore by canoe and on foot.
 
Robinson was born in Ottawa in 1987 and today lives in Toronto. From a very early age he was making art; he studied art and illustration at Sheridan College and Ontario College of Art and Design. His initial working life was in other fields, though he has always drawn and painted; at a key point of his life, however, it became a means for him to envisage positive outcomes to help break out of a negative lifestyle. Then he first illustrated the fish with which he was working in crisp, graphic paintings that place the fish against white backgrounds; the results are somewhere between icons and scientific illustration. That phase of work was followed by more narrative pictures in which individuals or groups take on a landscape that is not without threat, but which encourages them to develop as individuals.
 
While these images of struggle and of stunning beauty were instrumental in improving Robinson’s mental health, to the uninformed viewer they are engaging tableaux of a country which offers a vast wildness that can scarcely be experienced in Europe. Canada also has a millennia-old history of art that articulates a symbiotic relationship with nature; Robinson’s images are models for a grounded interaction with our environment. He draws his subject matter from memories of weeks- and months-long canoe trips he undertook as a teenager, during which a group would have to fend for themselves. These exhilarating experiences gave him a resource to mine as an adult, and a backdrop he then populates with figures and talismans from his personal life. The motif of scissors, for example, is one he borrows from his grandfather, A.C. Robinson, who was also a painter. He never knew his grandfather, but scissors were a subject that appeared inexplicably in his works, which Graham Robinson has adopted and made his own. Scissors caught in stone, potential violence contained, is a motif that occurs in works such as Reconstruction Site, 2016.
 
Robinson’s colour range relies heavily on primary colours, allowing him to work as directly and expressively as possible, as does working in pastel. The resulting aesthetic is intense and charged, exemplified in scenes like that of Night Moves (Unless I’m LED) of 2016, in which a canoeist with packs and guitar moves through a narrow waterway by ghostly moonlight and head-torch, led by, or imagining, an apparition of a fish ahead of him. Another work, The Weight (Sisyphus is Happy), 2016, shows a man carrying an impossible burden of his own with another universe atop that, stomping along, paddle in hand. Here Robinson is referring to Albert Camus’ thoughts on Sisyphus’ endless labours, that he is in fact a happy figure, who has found fulfilment in his process, rather than being dispirited by its endlessness.
 
Graham Robinson’s paintings and drawings are intimate works steeped in his biography and his influences, from music to art and reading. The journey they illustrate is a canoe trip without a specific destination, but guided by an ideal of a mind and body united. Robinson gives us a vision for anyone to strive towards: a challenging life spent in the company of friends, with music and an open mind. 




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