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This is Not An Ikea Lamp

This is Not An Ikea Lamp

How can a single mass produced object such as a vase, a tissue box, or an envelope inspire an artist? Yesterday, I had a chat with Emil Robinson during the preview of his London exhibition “Someone and some other” held at Waterhouse & Dodd in Mayfair.

Emil Robinson is a young American painter from Cincinnati, Ohio, and this is his first solo exhibition outside of the USA. Robinson’s paintings depict everyday objects in a minimalistic way: an open book, a tissues box, a few pieces of paper, an envelope, a lamp… In his website, he writes: “As a representational painter there are nameable things in my paintings. However, I am invested in the unnameable as my primary subject. 

“Storage”, Oil on panel, Courtesy of Waterhouse & Dodd, Copyright Emil Robinson

What is appealing is that the simplicity of the object represented produces a mysterious atmospheric effect. As the viewer, we try to look beyond the objects in Robinson’s work. We scrutinise the still image for a moment, much like the man in front of the storage in the composition, “Man with Storage 2”.

In the catalogue for the exhibition, each painting is accompanied by a short note from Robinson. For me, these words play an important role in the work. They are fresh, spontaneous and poetic: they do not attempt to explain the painting but instead add a spiritual dimension to it. What is also interesting about these paintings is that the artist constantly seeks to capture the geometry and shape of the object he represents, and tries to find a unity among their various forms. Opposite the photo of “Attrition”, he writes: “I pulled tissues from the box until I found the right abstract shape.”

“Attrition”, Oil on panel, Courtesy of Waterhouse & Dodd, Copyright Emil Robinson

Robinson told me that he often changes the position of the objects and moves them on the canvas until he feels he has the right balance. He also frequently adds an object at the end of his process, such as another book on the table or more papers, to create interesting lines and shadows.

His choice of colours is also a very important element of his work. When he paints an envelope on a table, he completely draws the viewer’s attention to the opened envelope by rendering it in a distinctive blue colour. In “Ikea Lamp”, Emil uses vibrant pink and orange, which mix with the light of the white lamp and create pleasingly warm tones of orange.

“Ikea Lamp”, Oil on panel, Courtesy of Waterhouse & Dodd, Copyright Emil Robinson

Emil has a particular interest in empty storage containers. They create all sorts of interesting shapes and geometric patterns, and allow him to play with colour and light. In “Man with Storage 2”, he adds a human figure in front of the empty storage. The man stands still as if he was meditating in front of the object, much like the viewers of this exhibition contemplate Emil’s work.

“Man with Storage 2”, Oil on panel, Courtesy of Waterhouse & Dodd, Copyright Emil Robinson

The exhibition is on until 21 October.