Walter Robinson’s Retrospective at Jeffrey Dietch Projects

Walter Robinson’s Retrospective at Jeffrey Dietch Projects

Walter Robinson’s paintings chronicle a life in the art world and remind us that we usually want pictures more than things.

Walter Robinson’s paintings chronicle a life in the art world and remind us that we usually want pictures more than things.

Text: Eduardo Andres Alfonso

Walter Robinson is a quintessential New York personage. He received an education at Columbia University during the height of civil unrest in Harlem (fueled by the Vietnam War), he was in the New York post-minimal, pre-pop scene—known loosely as the Pictures Generation—and participated in the fabled Times Square Art Show in 1980, which was described as, “raw, raucous and trashy”. Throughout this time, Walter was also a writer, and by the late 80’s writing had eclipsed painting; a trajectory that continued until 2012 when Walter left ArtNet Magazine, a publication that he founded in 1996. He has since returned to painting with an admittedly a higher degree of commitment, becoming “more professional about production”.

Walter’s painting practice runs a thread through his career. His still life creations and portraits (of everyday objects, pulp figures, and friends) run like a continuous thread through his impressive bio. The pictures are laid out in Jeffrey Deitch’s Wooster Street gallery as a ribbon of works that belts the room, moving through his various motifs. As the drug store artifacts give way to scenes of noir romance onto Lands End catalogues and family snap shots, it becomes clear that the appropriation in which Walter engages is not devoid of emotion.

The aspirational nature of the catalogue photography that is lifted into painting is mired by the melodramatic tone of women and men engaged in salacious interactions. Those things we desire that are benign are juxtaposed with high wire romance and interpersonal incident laden with spectacle; those moments that in fact produce the stories and noteworthy events that define much of mediated lives. The way in which the works jump between these themes (high-low, vulgar-suburban, quotidian-extravagant) confuses preconceptions about serial painting and figurative painting. This exhibition defeats the notion that working in a rigorous way on a seemingly pre-defined set of themes precludes desire.

The common thread running through the works is that they all portray, “things people like to buy” (Robinson’s words). And whether the object of desire is alleviating parched lips or satiating a sexual fantasy, these works remind us that we first seek the remedy in images, not things.

Walter Robinson: A Retrospective is on view at Deitch Projects (88 Wooster Street) through October 22.

Amboy Dukes, 1981. Acrylic on Masonite. 29.25 x 24 inches. Collection of Harry Druzd.
Bromo, 1984. Acrylic on canvas. 56 x 36 inches. Courtesy of Jeffrey Deitch
The Scientist, 1983. Acrylic on canvas. 24 x 24 inches. Courtesy of Jeffrey Deitch
Installation view. Courtesy of Jeffrey Deitch
Installation view. Courtesy of Jeffrey Deitch

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