Robby Rose’s photorealistic oil paintings are a striking and vivid counter to the increasingly conceptual Art World
If you want to see what it looks like to master a skill, look no further than Robby Rose. He’s mastered his medium – oil painting – and makes some of the most incredible, photorealistic portraits and landscapes that I’ve experienced to date.
Last week I had the chance to go to his studio and pick his brain–the article below recounts my experience. I hope you enjoy as much as I did.
Upon entering Robby’s studio, I’m immediately confronted with two things: light and color.
Canvases are stacked vertically, from floor to ceiling.
Amid the array of paintings in various stages of completion, my eye settles on one canvas in the top left corner of the room. It’s a painting of a woman’s torso – from neck to pelvis. Its colors and bright and intense, like a photo with elevated exposure, contrast, and saturation.
Robby tells me that the painting is of his girlfriend, a frequent subject of his work. Also, it was originally supposed to include her head.
The decision to cut the piece at the neck came as he completed her head, which was bald due to chemotherapy. Coupled with the makeup she was wearing, it had the potential to make the rest of the piece too over the top or overtly sexual. So he split the canvas and sold the head separately before continuing the body that’s grabbed my attention.
The thing I find most striking about this piece is the way he captured her bare skin. Now knowing the full story, I understand the importance of his decision. The body can make an impact because it’s not overshadowed or tainted by the presence of a head. Nothing about it is vulgar or crass – nor does it seem to be “about” her sexuality at all, really. Without an accompanying face and expression, the painting can exist as a kind of study of skin. He captures the color, elasticity, musculature, and distinctly lifelike quality that tend to be absent even in the greatest works of art. This segment of a body contains more life than many of the full figure renderings I’ve seen in galleries and museums—the closest rival being the sculpture “Woman with a Dog,” by Duane Hanson, at the Whitney.
As my focus shifts to take in the rest of the room, we begin to discuss the large piece above his easel. The main form is shaped like a body but comprised of an intricate web of earth-toned lines. It looks like something you might find in biology textbook—a picture of the body’s system of veins and arteries.He tells me this is the “underpainting.” He first creates a foundation in the form of these tan-colored lines (or “veins”), and gradually fills in the rest. He paints in layers until he’s reached the correct color, shading, and light. Like a real body, each painting has its own system of “veins,” lines or “scaffolding” supporting the final figure. Perhaps this is what gives his work the uncanny, distinctly human “glow.”
Along with the many portraits, Robby has also done a number of landscapes and studies of water and fabric, each piece more vivid than the next. He “introduces” me to the portraits, explains their backstory: the series about his girlfriend’s battle with cancer, his best friend who has since passed, other friends, a few commissioned works… a judge, a veteran.
I’ve started to see what a deeply personal process this is for Robby. Perhaps this is why his work is so incredible—because he genuinely cares for each subject. And whether it’s love that underpins the portrait or motivation to complete a job, as with a commissioned portrait—his commitment to each piece is palpable. No matter how true to life the finished product may be, it’s been interpreted and created by Robby, filtered through his mind and hands.
For Robby, painting serves as a way to connect to the world, other people, and himself. He considers his work to be “autobiographical”; he snaps a candid photograph and uses that as a guide for his painting. If a photograph serves to freeze and capture a single moment in time, then painting that photograph is an expansion of that moment – through the laborious and time-consuming process, that moment becomes rooted in the present.
It’s clear that if connectivity and resonance is the goal of Robby’s art, he’s absolutely succeeded. His work is so much more than refined skill and talent—his mastery of craft is imbued with an understanding and sensitivity to every one of his subjects. Each painting moves you in its own, unique way.
Many thanks to Robby Rose!
Check out his website – www.robbyrose.com – for some amazing videos that show a sped-up version of a painting, from start to finish (you can see how the underpainting works!)
Follow him @robbyrose607
In an effort to showcase the abundance of talent and creativity we have here at Java, we’ll be conducting biweekly interviews with various inhabitants. Robby was the first profile in what will become an ongoing series.