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April 25-May 23, 2009, at Western Project, Culver City

by Diane Calder

When Louis Daguerre was awarded the patent for a process that mechanically captured and fixed images in a manner many thought of as perfectly objective, but without artistic merit, painters feared being put out of work by anyone who could cock a camera shutter. Since that time, photographers and painters have fought over and invaded each other’s territory, made concessions, crossed margins and (frequently) benefited from learning to get along.

In the years that have passed since photographers first realized they could elevate clients above the mundane by posing them in front of painted backdrops, interest in work by artists who, like Chad Robertson, dislodge medium specificity from their creations has grown. Robertson utilizes technical acumen gained while working as a free-lance designer of movie posters. He maintains a photographic edge in his new paintings using Photoshop as a tool in service of his painterly skills.

Robertson gained critical acclaim several years ago mining downloaded gestures from videotape interviews in search of the “moments between moments” in peoples’ lives. A provocative sense of melancholy engulfed those paintings on paper, reinforced by the empty spaces isolating each figure and Robertson’s preference for restrained monochromatic palettes and unvarnished finishes.

With his new work, Robertson continues to fine-tune his method of production in service of larger, more colorful, complex and assured oil paintings on canvas. Elements in his “Mash Up” series, named after the phenomenon of layering popular, sometimes disparate songs to create something new, are arranged in Photoshop. The artist begins with images that command attention, often his own photographs or those culled from mass media sources. Positioning promising material in separate digital layers, Robertson is free to experiment with weaving elements of his composition together seamlessly, adjusting volume, tenor and tone by changing the size, position, opacity, color, etc. of various components. Once Robertson is satisfied with the orchestration, he references his printouts, perfecting their translation to oil paint on canvas.

“Mash-Up #5,” 2007,
oil on paper, 17 x 45”.

“Mash-Up #6,” 2007,
oil on paper, 30 x 24”.

“Mash-Up #10,” 2008,
oil on canvas over panel, 37 x 48”.

“Mash-Up #11,” 2008,
oil on canvas, 48 x 60”.

Robertson, whose constant studio companion is his iPod, crosses media boundaries by envisioning the narrative of his paintings as music. Citing Brian Eno as an influence, Robertson perceives parallels between assembling visual elements and combining musical notes. He addresses this collection of paintings as a medley of works that present non-specific pieces of music as a visual experience. They are in the artist’s words, “. . .much like a collection of individual songs sharing a larger narrative, like an album or full-length CD. And like a familiar song that takes on profound new meaning at different phases of life, or in the light of experience, each of these paintings sings out like a single that tells its own distinct story to whomever is listening, or seeing.”

Rather than assigning descriptive titles to the paintings in his “Mash Up” series, Robertson numbers them, coaxing viewers to trust their own interpretations of each work. It’s difficult however, to avoid speculating about the artist’s personal history, especially when paying attention to the cinematic imagery replete in his paintings.

Robertson currently resides in the hills near the Hollywood sign, where fantasy period architecture abuts restored modernist homes in juxtapositions as unpredictable as that of the imagery in his paintings. The iconic Hollywood sign noses in for its close–up in “Mash Up #12,” albeit not from its best side.

Las Vegas, another town where architecture lite brings the place to the people, was his home for several years. That desert town’s lavish use of water, in fountains, pools and man made canals, is as unanticipated as Robertson’s flood of waves inside the car seen in profile in “Mash Up #11.” He owns an underwater camera and confesses to feeling most at ease when free floating in water.

Robertson grew up in an Orange County community neighboring Disneyland. Years later, when traveling abroad, sites in cities like Venice seemed less authentic to him than architecture from the magic kingdom he had bonded with as a child. Fireworks bursting from a Disney Fantasyland sky reiterate the radiating cracks in a pane of glass shattered by a rugged, wood-handled hammer in the dramatic, almost operatic “Mash Up # 16.” Its marvelous textural nuances, lost in downsized photographic reproductions, sing out when experienced firsthand.