“Idolatry” is Robin Eley’s second solo exhibition and it is nothing short of absolutely amazing. I visited Hill Smith Gallery with my 4 year old son, who spent most of the time trying to physically touch the artworks, because he wanted to see if they were real. Annoyed as I was with his antics, I must admit I felt the urge to do the same thing. I was transfixed; Robin’s paintings, they simply take your breath away. His mastery of tone and colour through the use of oil paint on Belgian linen is extraordinary; and I urge you to see his work, in the flesh so to speak, photographs simply do not do them justice. In this exhibition, his works delve into our almost religious fascination with materialistic pleasures of life.
I was fortunate enough to be able to ask Robin a few questions about his work.
How would you describe your art?
I find it difficult to classify my work. If I have to give an answer I would say Contemporary Realism. I think most would say Photo-realism, but I believe that this classification refers directly to the movement Photo-realism which occurred 40 years ago. In this movement the artists were concerned with the precise, mechanical replication of the photo and are more inclined to depict scenes taken directly from life. In my practice I draw inspiration from contemporary art and attempt to ground all of my work in concept before I turn to the craft. I can tell you now that my practice will evolve and I eventually hope to be recognised as a multi-disciplinary artist, but that is all in the future. For now, Contemporary Realist painter will do.
What aside from painting takes up your time?
In recent times my spare time has been rather limited! But when I do have it I try to spend most of it with my wife. I also like to exercise most days, but I kind of consider that to be part of work. I think that staying fit is a huge part of being able to work long hours. The other love of my life is basketball. I don’t play much anymore, but, I love to watch it and have it on in the background most days when I paint.
Your current exhibition is titled “Idolatry”, could you explain how you came by the name?
Idolatry is a term used to describe the worship of an idol or object. In my exhibition I am looking at the almost religious faith in and devotion to the material and how this new religion has supplanted actual religion in mainstream society.
Could you talk us through the creative process- how does a work get from an idea to a completed work?
All of my work begins with a central idea, in this case what I have described above. Within this idea I develop a few different paths of expression and from this conceive a vague idea for what the piece will be. This is all done with words on paper, no drawing. I find that once you draw an image the brain stops working and can’t progress past the image. Once I have my idea, I then turn to drawing. I sketch out thumbnails in my sketchbook mostly working out problems of composition. Once I have my sketch I then set up the photo shoot. This can be a very complex and time consuming process, but I know what I want going in and won’t stop until I get it. I then take the photos and look at them on the computer, eventually choosing elements of many. I arrange these in a final composition and transfer the drawing to my canvas. I then paint it.
How long does it take to complete a painting?
The confusing answer is it takes as long as it needs to take. I’ve added weeks onto a painting just to fix something that I know 99% of people wouldn’t notice. Usually though, anywhere from 2 to 8 weeks depending on size. I estimate that Veneration took around 500 hours. 7 weeks at around 70-80 hours per week.
What about the practice of art is the most difficult for you? How do you deal with mental blanks?
The most difficult thing is the sacrifices I have made with family and friends. I have to work very long hours. I did not have a single day off between Christmas and my exhibition in June. Having to say no to things that any regular person would say yes to wears you down. That is the toughest part.
I don’t subscribe to the notion of mental blanks. If I’m struggling to resolve a concept or come up with a solution to a problem I don’t panic. I know I will get there because I am continuing to think and I trust in my thought process. The idea is down the road, I just have to continue to move toward it.
Do you get nervous about exhibiting your work?
I do in some sense. I haven’t shown enough to get a real understanding of how I handle it. Opening night makes me nervous and while I look forward to it, I never enjoy it.
Is there anything that you still wish to learn?
There is so much more that I want to learn, that I will learn. The thing that I am finding most beneficial though is that the more work I do the more I am learning about myself.
“Idolatry” is coming to a close on the 6th of July. Robin also teaches at the Art Academy, an Adelaide educational establishment specialising in short instructional courses of study. If you wish to find out more-follow the links below.