Discovery Series: Interview with Colette Robbins
Rhoni Blankenhorn for Welcome to COMPANY
(January 25, 2011) Colette Robbins charmed us with her fresh take on classical imagery, her subtlety and grace, and the mysterious serenity that emanates from each of her works. Colette shows her work both nationally and internationally. Recently her work has been featured in shows at Deitch Projects, NY , Lesley Heller Work Space, NY, RH Gallery, NY, Art Star, NY, Yautepec , Mexico City, Mexico, Sloan Fine Art, NY, 92 Y Tribeca, NY, and The Guild Gallery, NY. She is an affiliate of Parlour, a nomadic exhibitions project that holds one-night art salons in living rooms throughout five boroughs of NYC and abroad. Colette has been awarded grants for residencies such as The Cill Rialaig Project in Ireland, and the Vermont Studio Center. She now lives and works in Queens, New York. You can find prints of The Watchtower and The Head Exchange in our Limited Editions market.
COMPANY: What’s your background? How did you decide to become an artist?
Colette: I was born in St. Louis City, and was raised in a hundred year old house. My parents are very supportive of the arts. My mother is a musician and loves antiques and art so I was surrounded by music and art. I knew I wanted to make art at a very young age and continued to study it in high school and undergraduate. I realized along the way, that there is a big difference between someone who makes art all the time and someone who pursues a full time career as a fine artist. I hadn’t completely decided on a full time career as a fine artist until it came time to apply to graduate school.
COMPANY: Current obsessions?
Colette: Textures and mysteries are my main obsessions.
COMPANY: How do you go about starting a new work?
Colette: I am always thinking about different directions to take my work, so I make sketches and let the ideas sit with me while I am finishing up other ideas in the studio.
COMPANY: Any exhibits you’ve enjoyed lately?
Colette: I loved Klara Kristalova at Lehman Maupin. Her tenderly sculpted ceramic works are still resonating with me long after viewing the show.
COMPANY: Any piece you’ve created that you are really attached to, or have a story behind?
Colette: All of my works have some personal narratives lurking behind them. Most recently I made a graphite painting of a sculpted head buried in an old fireplace filled and overflowing with ashes. The fireplace imagery is from my childhood home, and while making it, I imagined myself as the head, a sculpted relic, that someone might find in a future world.
COMPANY: Can you describe your process?
Colette: First I have an image in my head of what I want a piece to look like, I sketch it, and then I start going through hundreds of photos. Once I find and take photos that relate with the idea I have, I weave multiple photos together, and create a collage in Photoshop. Most of my works have some sort of head or texture in them, so I have created some sculptures to draw more textural inspiration from in my studio. When I get to the point where I am working on a painting, I have a lot of source material I draw inspiration from, in addition to making a lot of textures up as I go. The technical process for making the graphite paintings consists of using graphite powder and mixing it with water on a palette and then applying it to heavy watercolor paper with a watercolor brush. I apply it in multiple layers so I can get a wide variety of values.
COMPANY: Are there running themes in your work?
Colette: I have been working on a body of work called “The Head Exchange” a couple of years now. The work consists mainly of individual stone heads buried or double-faced stone heads sculpted into landscapes. The buried heads discuss the joys and fears of unearthing a relic. The double-faced heads in the landscapes are monuments of relationships between two people and their relationship with the world.
COMPANY: Why do you choose to use such limited color in your work? Have you thought about experimenting with more?
Colette: Before I make a work, I ask myself what the best palette for that piece will be, and recently graphite has been the most effective way to communicate the imagery and ideas. I am always experimenting in my studio with new techniques. Two of the new works I have will use the graphite painting process as an under painting and then I will layer watercolors on top. I am also experimenting with sculptures of heads in a terrarium, so there is a different use of color than in the graphite paintings.
COMPANY: How do you relate with your collectors?
Colette: My work has a level of mystery to it, so my collectors like to hear the stories behind my work from me personally.
COMPANY: Do you collect yourself? Any artist’s work you are lusting after?
Colette: I have been really lucky over the years to know so many great artists, and to be able to trade my works for theirs. I have a lot of art! I am always lusting after Lee Bontecou’s work, and wish I had the budget to buy one of her pieces!
COMPANY: Any other interests? Pets? Hobbies?
Colette: I have a beautiful half Siamese cat who I adore. I love walking and staring at old houses, wondering what kind of life the people inside them have. I have a pretty large indoor garden that I love tending to.
COMPANY: Three essential items in your studio?
Colette: Well, art supplies are a given so I’ll list three non-supply relate necessities: audiobooks, coffee, and a yoga matt.
COMPANY: What are you working on now?
Colette: I am working on a new large graphite painting of a double-faced sculpture in a landscape. I am also working on a painting of an underground scene where you can see a head peeking through the dirt.