Long Supper: Stuart Robertson

      SPRING/BREAK ART FAIR    ︎︎︎     7 - 12 SEPTEMBER 2022     ︎︎︎     NYC     ︎︎︎

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︎ stuart robertson
︎ nora lucia boyd

click here for purchasing information: SPRING/BREAK Art Fair booth 1054

First, here are some questions for looking at the paintings:

︎︎︎ Is it ok for someone who is not (like) the subject to paint them, when there is a historic imbalance of power? Or maybe, HOW can someone paint someone else that does not recreate or deepen historic imbalances of power?

︎︎︎ How does imagination or imaginary situations function in painting for the painter and the viewer? Or maybe, does the painter’s use of imagination, creation of an imaginary event, or an imaginary time & place, affect the viewer differently from the way it affects the painter?

︎︎︎ Does posting semi-clothed or semi-nude images of our own (female) bodies on the internet function as a capitulation to the male gaze, or is it taking back agency? What kinds of distortion occur when we take and share a photo, versus when a figure is painted? How does our social media or online presence function differently than “fine art”?

︎︎︎ Who are YOU in all this? You’re standing in this work of art, aren’t you? You’re in the painting, you’re reflected in the mirrors, you’re present. If you’re looking at the women, you’re in the park with them, maybe taking their picture? If you’re looking in the mirror, you’re amongst them, pictured with them. What’s that all about?

︎︎︎ Why is it ok for a painting to show a woman nude if she’s alone (in a bedroom, or a forest, say) or as an allegory (victory, America, temperance, whatever), but when others are clothed it’s weird (see Manet’s Dejeuner sur l’herbe)? Where’s the special surrealism in that equation?

︎︎︎ Why is it so hard for us to imagine this same situation & setting filled with semi-clothed men? Is because we never see images of this or because patriarchy does not allow the same sorts of casual vulnerability and intimacy between men?

More thoughts on Long Supper:

Stewy and I started by talking about a large group portrait he’s been working on for years. It shows his aunt, grandmother, mom and dad around his grandmother’s table in Jamaica, but it’s surreal - there’s too much food for only those people sitting there, their faces are obscured, and as the viewer, you feel … uneasily part of the painting, maybe you’re a family member, maybe you’re a stranger, maybe you’re the painter himself. They’re also covered in shiny, reflective aluminum, making them look armored or scaled. We talked about Stewy’s need to paint his family but also his need to protect them from the outside world, from the cruel, fickle gaze of the outside world. A world that extracted bauxite from Jamaica and sold it back to them in aluminum, a world that buys and sells images, and now especially images of black people, for speculative gain, a world that evaluates and judges. Who gets to see their skin? Who gets to see their faces? How could show his family and this place without giving it to those worlds, with protective measures in place?

As we progressed through possible iterations of group portraits, though, we drifted toward another set of questions, this time about the specifically male gaze, of both viewers and painters themselves. There’s a long history of men painting women, and a shorter but much more acute history of people trying to confront, change, undo that way of making art. Stewy, understandably, was very conflicted about painting multiple women, including partially-clothed women, in these positions of comfort and intimacy, and putting them out there in the world for display. But one of the reasons he wanted so badly to portray this moment is because it’s something specifically lacking from his experience of masculinity. What if this were a painting of a bunch of semi-clothed dudes lounging in the park?

The painting got bigger and bigger - one large panel, then two, then four. The figures became larger-than-life, putting the viewer in a relatively less powerful position, and drawing them into a set of questions about their own involvement in the image.