Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Now that's an ironic title for a review of a Walter Robinson show, isn't it, especially for someone who claimed to have "stopped painting" in 1985 to become a fulltime editor? Yet, here we have a brand new body of work at the Dorian Grey Gallery in which Wally recapitulates the metaphors of casual desire which made him, briefly, an art star in the early 80s, as the inventor of "bad painting."

In truth Walter Robinson never stopped painting, although for decades the only people who ventured to his studio and put him in group shows were the brilliant artist Jane Dickson and myself. How Scott Fitzgerald described his own style in The Crackup, "fatal facility", delineates the Robinson practice and the Robinson influence. Even though Walter was stupidly not included in the Met's Pictures Generation exhibition a few years back, the ambiguity of his life's work made Robinson the avatar of his generation of painters and all that followed. The hamburgers, babes, beer bottles, whiskey, playing cards, medicine cabinets and trannies which emerge so easily from Robinson's brush may be too facile for the intelligentsia but they are fatal in their encyclopedic depiction of American's downmarket desires.

The critical reaction to Walter's work has also been facile and, until now, fatal to his painting career: Peter Schjeldahl writing in The New Yorker that Damien Hirst stole his spin paintings from Robinson, Jerry Saltz repeatedly claiming that Walter "should win a MacArthur". Ah yes, so many have come to praise Robinson as his career lay buried in his own struggle for sobriety and his editorial attentions to others. For, in truth, just as Walter's easy strokes invite dismissal, so his enabling art world persona made him dismiss his own studio genius. Yet, if only by osmosis, the great ironists of figuration, Currin, Peyton and Yuskavage and their legions of inferiors, owe everything to Walter's painting, while , as his new show proves, he remains a better painter than them!

In 1995, I took Walter to Jenny Schueler's Soho studio to see her "TV Dinner Series". Because her work looked exaclty like Robinson's own TV dinner series from many years before, and because she didn't even know that Walter was a painter, Robinson nearly lost it. "But", I told him then, "Isn't this proof of your genius? Don't you have the true power of the Zen master atop a hill whose mere thinking has the easy facility to change the world?" Chew on that burger for awhile and you will come to the absurd but true realization that Walter Robinson is the most influential American painter since Jasper Johns, and, thus, the greatest.

Charlie Finch

1 comment:

Robert Reitzfeld said...