From finding beauty in the chaos of the dense thickets of the New Zealand bush to questioning new algorithms on social media, the contemporary conceptual glass-like works of French Canadian artist Micheline Robinson seek to challenge our perceptions and notions of beauty whilst playing with our sense of light and space.
A: Could you describe your practice in terms of marrying up form and content? What materials do you usually use and why?
MR: Each of my series usually starts with a concept. My goal is to express the thoughts or feelings as concisely as I can. This means a lot of thought goes into the form of my works, and how I can combine that with the materials and ideas, to better express my overall intent.
My materials vary, and I am not afraid of experimenting in order to create new effects. For example, in my Uprooting series, my aim was to depict the state of suspension in moving countries, in uprooting a life from one place to another. I created chaotic blurry landscapes over which acrylic paint was thrown, calculated at a precise angle to create the illusion of motion yet suspension in space, reflecting the state of being between two continents.
In Jagged Black Rocks, I used only black inks and varnish. The rocks were the first landmarks to my arrival in NZ four years ago, and I was struck with the rawness of the landscape, inciting a sense of danger, of urgency. I wanted to depict the mana (Maori word for power) of the landscape, and switching to monochrome allowed this to be more easily communicated. I tried to compact the power of the coast where I live to a bundle, as if the entire experience was caught in a tornado and thrown together onto the canvas. Each piece was created instinctively in one sitting without retouch. They are also a nod to modern black and white photography, where some elements are frozen, and others capture movement.
In all my pieces, my ultimate aim is to create a believable, sculptural space in the confines of the canvas, regardless of concept or which series I am working on.
A: How do you respond to traditionalist styles against the digital opportunities now available to artists?
MR: I would love to have a go with the Tiltbrush (A 3D Virtual reality paint programme) and have produced some digital works but in terms of my practice, I prefer to use traditional materials. I love the look and feel of paint and appreciate the time away from the screen, listening to music, stuck in a zone as I physically am engaged with the canvas. I respect them both the traditional and digital equally and see them as two very different ways of communicating that do not need to compete but live comfortably alongside each other.
A: Your sources of inspiration come from many sources, including the New Zealand landscape and algorithms on social media – how do such differing types of idea collate in your mind?
MR: They are part of my life’s experiences. I have a compulsion to record my journey as a contemporary artist to convey what I feel, what I think, to reflect and communicate what is happening today. My work has to breathe, live and be truthful to my current reality which means concepts, form will change over time as I live life and get inspired or affected by all that touches me.
A: Is there a certain concept that you’re trying to build upon in your collections?
MR: Yes, I would like all my collections to convey that sense of urgency we feel when confronted by larger than life events, to feel that connection with the Universe. In all my series, I try to evoke this energy, this power, regardless of the content. In terms of form, as I said previously, I am also looking to make believable the abstract works I create in order for them to exist in their own right, as individual entities and 3D spaces. Not as abstractions of something else we recognise in the real world but as new undiscovered landscapes.
A: How has organising the Wirral Open Studio affected your practice in terms of inspiration and collaboration with other practitioners?
MR: I thought of the idea of an arts trail when I was recovering from illness not long after moving to the Wirral. There weren’t many opportunities to show art at the time on the peninsula and initiating a trail would not only help rebuild the confidence I had lost but also provide a platform to exhibit my work and that of the many talented practitioners that surrounded me. This pro-activeness was new to me and to implement the change I wanted to see in my community did give me strength and eventually built up the confidence I was lacking. What I received from this experience was less about collaborations with other artists and inspirations for my work but more about how one can overcome obstacles by having a vision, as well as how to manage a project, how to communicate to the press, how to work within a timeframe and to a professional standard, all things I have been able to apply to my practice.
A: Do you think that your works try to communicate a conceptual beauty in the natural world, and if so, for what purpose?
MR: Not specifically, although as a newcomer to NZ who has been overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of this landscape, a few of my recent series seem to have focused this way. In these works, the purpose was to highlight or to challenge preconceptions of beauty in a landscape. For example, in one series I focused on the dense chaotic thickets of the NZ bush (forest) instead of the orderly (shaped by human) landscapes. Generally, I have used natural like environments in my work but more as a vessel to communicate content. For example, a political observation of the broken Libyan regime has once been expressed in a seashell and seaside like scene. I try to bring the work away from urban day to day references that can generate memories to the viewer to somewhere that is escapist and is in more neutral territory.
Find out more about Robinson: www.michelinerobinson.com
1. Micheline Robinson, Birch tree 1 (2016). Courtesy of the artist.
2. Micheline Robinson, Vertigo. (2016). Courtesy of the artist.
3. Micheline Robinson, Birch trees 2 (2016). Courtesy of the artist.
4. Micheline Robinson, Portion of Conundrum from Jagged Black Rocks. Courtesy of the artist.