Eric Robin: Conjuring the Face of Suffering and Compassion

As a police officer for the city of Brussels, the Belgian painter Eric Robin came to see himself as a “witness of humanity,” and that, he says, has been one of his abiding inspirations. Certainly a sense of humanity in the raw is everywhere evident in the paintings Robin will be exhibiting at Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, from January 6 through 27, 2009. (Reception January 8, from 6 to 8pm.)

At the same time, lest one give the impression that Robin may be an autodidactic “outsider,” it should be noted that he is actually a sophisticated painter, trained at the Brussels Royal Academy of Arts, who deliberately chooses to work in a primitivistic style. In the present series, the subject of his acrylics on canvas is the female face, painted in strong Fauvist colors in bold strokes that show a certain kinship to older artists such as Rouault and Modigliani, who worked in a similarly direct manner.

Robin, however, has evolved his own unique approach to the feminine visage, making the old truism “the eyes are the windows of the soul” manifest in every composition. Usually disproportionately large, the eyes of his portrait subjects engage those of the viewer in a manner that can sometimes be unsettling. Some of them seem to question, others to implore, yet others to accuse. All are the mesmerizing focal point of his compositions, in which the form of the face fills much of the canvas, as if the subject is leaning forward to take the viewer into her confidence. While this may not be the actual source of these compositions, one gets a sense of the emotional intimacy with which a police officer is confronted daily on active duty, which lends Robin’s painting an unusual ¬¬perhaps, for some, even uncomfortable¬¬ presence. And it is in this that much of their power lies.

Robin’s nonliteral use of color is another attribute of his recent paintings, heightening their psychological impact. Given the urban environment a policeman patrols, on the night shift in particular, it would be possible to imagine that some of his faces may be bathed in neon¬¬particularly “Sarah,” who has an overall blue cast (piquantly accented by the pimento-red pupils of her eyes), and “Enzo,” whose flesh is tinted a garish green hue. It seems more likely, however, these auras emanate from within, symbolizing shades of emotion rather than the play of light on facial pigmentation.

”My colour use is the expression of my first spontaneous impression and not of what one’s intended to see,” Robin makes clear in an artist’s statement for the exhibition, in which he also reveals that the first face he painted in this manner surprised him by turning out to be a portrait of his mother, who had been ill for many years.

”This was a revelation,” he says. “I directly knew exactly how I would like to proceed further with this work. I wanted to paint women and the story of their lives...I saw in the sorrow of my mother the suffering of humanity. A mother carries the sorrow of the world within her. Through sadness and despair, lies a source of truth.”

Eric Robin has discovered a way to make this pain and this truth manifest in pigment. His paintings, therefore, are possessed of an uncommon power.

¬¬Donald Lieberman

Image Credits: Lisa, Acrylic on Canvas, 39" x 39"

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