Apr 23, 2014
Apr 21, 2014

An Interview with Renee Robbins


12" x 12" 2014
acrylic on panel

How did you get your start as an artist? 

In grade school I use to sign my class notes as Robin Snake in purple and pink pens. I wanted a pet snake really bad and I relentlessly begged my mother for years to let me have one. I drew the S in snake as a bubble letter usually with several snake tongues coming out. I wasn’t able to convince my mother to house a pet snake but eventually she let me have an aquarium. Nature and making things has always been a part of my life and something I have felt compelled to do. My creative work has sourced the biological for almost 15 years. In art school, I learned to draw through observation of still lifes and figure models. My first series of work in college was based on the human figure. I drew the veins, cells, and other systems obsessively all over the figure. During this time, I can remember creating a painting based on the organelles in a plant cell with tiny mitochondria all over the place. Over time I realized that I was more interested in interior space and obsessive mark making in the human landscape rather than the figure so the outline disappeared. As I move into each new body of work, I often organize micro/macro systems in different ways.

What brought you to Logan Square (Humbolt?)  and how long have you been in the area?

A few years after finishing school I relocated to Chicago in 2007. I wanted to be surrounded by artists and people pursuing creative goals. It was important to my artistic practice be engaged and have a dialogue in a vibrant artistic community. Growing up in the midwest, Chicago was the place I always imagined and dreamed about living. Chicago has always felt comfortable as I visited often before relocating. There are so many fantastic art spaces and creatives here. Moving here seemed the most logical as there is a good balance between the art community, affordability, and close proximity to my family living in Michigan. What’s exciting about Chicago is that there are so many wonderful things happening all the time and not enough time to see everything. 

Tell me about your work.

I create and imagine worlds that are fluid, changing, morphing, and emerging. While the paintings draw from natural phenomena and micro to macro relationships, the work also pulls from the diversity and range within molecular, biological, marine, and celestial systems. I see these systems as a stepping off point that drives the process of painting. Our life experience is layered with complex systems that reach through tiny cells, flowering botanicals, and distant galaxies. I blend, mix, and juxtapose hybrid flora and fauna inside a space that simultaneously evokes the deep sea and the cosmos. I’m interested in bringing together microscopic and telescopic viewpoints. Quantum particles have their own set of guiding principles. For example, atoms, electrons and protons cannot touch each other. It’s nearly impossible to observe this happening with the naked eye. In a similar way, black holes are guided by their own set of rules and principles. No one has actually seen a black hole but there’s evidence to suggest their existence. The death of a star is the beginning of a black hole; it’s a remnant of a supernova’s explosion.

What are you trying to get across in your paintings?

My work focuses attention on fleeting moments and small details within the complex systems that shape our human experience. It is my intent that the work converges on a gigantic range both in and out of view. I’m excited by the mystery possible inside of all of these life systems. These paintings are a way to look at the world and to connect or make sense of our place. There is both a public and private self and those notions of self pull from many sources to construct our own identity. The work is a metaphor for our identity and sense of place.    

Why do you make your works?

I think of myself as a quasi-scientist and I created these works because I have to, it’s like breathing. I have a deep interest and curiosity in the natural world. I see poetry all around us. My motivation as an artist is driven by the possibilities in recombining imagery. I’m taking bits and pieces from the environment and reconfiguring a new cacophony of symbols and signs. For example, I may combine a molecular pattern with an exterior structure of a plant and then embed it within a star constellation. You might say I’m deeply obsessed with the ocean and I spend a lot of time at aquariums. I’m enraptured by the world, as it’s rich, full of wonder and meticulous detail. Color is bright, vivid, and complex like the world we often find ourselves in.

What is your process?  And what do you currently look to for inspiration?

I’m interested in negotiating the balance between abstraction and representation. I often look at source material or have it around in the studio to get me going. I don’t reference it exactly as I filter it through my own visual language. I may use it to jumpstart a form or borrow a pattern from a fish but it’s always changed or altered in someway. A painting often starts with either a white, blue, or black background. I envision the white space as up in the clouds, the black as ocean/cosmos and the blue as the space between those stratas. This is where the painting starts but not necessarily where it ends up. I typically work on at least 10 medium sized paintings at one time, when I have lots of smalls going the number can be 50. I’ll switch between several of them in day, as it’s a great way to keep moving in the studio. I tend to create about 3 or 4 larger works each year, and large is about 2.5 x 4 ft. I create many small works on paper and I recently published a book with my Daily Drawing Project that contained 366 small works. Before the Daily Drawing Project was the Pocket Pod Series which contained 250 small works. Now I’m working on the Fieldnotes series for the show at Comfort Station.

What or who were the early inspirations in your career?

Well there are a lot of inspirations, almost too numerous to discuss but at the moment those include Dr. Seuss, Bosch, Ernest Haeckel, Lee Bontecou, and Inka Essenhigh. Dr. Seuss creates a whimsical world that is entirely his own. The creatures, plants, their names, and the sense of adventure all play into his world. Bosch, a 15th Dutch painter, has always been fasinating to me. One of his triptychs, the garden of Earthly Delights, organizes space with concepts of Heaven and Hell. My work draws from the metaphors in spatial organizations. However, my work is more about binary concepts like above/below, inside/outside, interior/exteriority, natural/synthetic, attraction/repulsion, beauty/danger. Ernest Haeckel, a 19th German biologist, naturalist, and artist, cataloged over 5,000 species of radiolaria during his lifetime. His attention to detail and the amount of work he created during his lifetime is mind-boggling. I aspire to document or incorporate a similar number of specimens into my work during my lifetime. Lee Bontecou’s work has meticulous detail and the quasi-spaceships and voids are completely her own. Her work transports the viewer to another place. It’s something that you can’t quite put your finger on. I’m deeply influenced by Inka Essenhigh’s flat use of space and the color in her work. She constructs, twists, and shapes a rich and complex abstract space.

What are you looking forward to most with show at CS?

I’m very excited to be showing a new body of work in a non-traditional community driven artspace. It’s really fantastic that CS also doubles as a performance venue. To me the space looks like a research station in the middle of a city and that inspired the creation of all new work for the show. There is a historic quality to the space that is really fascinating. CS also hosts musical and film programing throughout the month of April. Films are screened on Wednesdays and musical acts perform every Thursday, so that’s eight different events right there. It’s thrilling that there will be so many other events happening in the same space as my art exhibit. I believe there is a potluck planned for a Sunday evening and also pop-up shop for Record Store Day where Numero will take over the station with loads of records.

Apr 17, 2014 / 1 note
Apr 17, 2014
Apr 16, 2014 / 1 note
Apr 6, 2014 / 1 note
Mar 28, 2014 / 4 notes
Mar 19, 2014 / 2 notes

Fieldnotes: New Works by Renee Robbins



New works by Renee Robbins

Opening Reception: Saturday, April 5th 4-7pm

Gallery Talk: Sunday April 27th, 2pm

Show dates: April 5-27, 2014
Gallery Hours: Sunday 11-3pm and by appt.



Mar 19, 2014 / 3 notes
Mar 18, 2014

Post Family Programming This Week


Wednesday 3/19
Post Family YouTube Open Mic Night
Share and discuss your favorite YouTube videos centered around the theme of comfort. Cute kittens and fail videos welcome.

Thursday 3/20
Post Family and Plural’s Smartphone Symphony and Performance by Deep Sleep Vibration
Participatory chance music via your smartphone web browser.

Check out the rest of The Post Family’s residency here.