Discipline: Visual Art – painting

Andy Robert

Discipline: Visual Art – painting
Region: Brooklyn, NY
MacDowell Fellowships: 2020

Andy Robert (b. 1984, Les Caye, Haiti) has developed a practice that negotiates abstraction with recognizable imagery. A practice that is engaged in a deeply personal and experimental approach with his materials, and enjoys the tinkering that comes with painting pictures. His paintings draw from a breadth of historical and personal references. In his work symbols are rendered simultaneously clear and veiled, and in a massive accumulation through dynamically diffuse washes of color renders fragmented strokes and visual cues explosive—it comes all at once in between the swirl of color, calligraphic and frenzied lines, in the gestural marks of adding and removing of paint, and drawing. Through rigorous experimentation with materials and study he has invented a signature, deconstructive approach to painting that relies on the premise that images are to be bent and folded, taken apart and put back together again. It is a belief that art is a philosophical means to look at and examine things—to question, test ideas, and engage with the world, and that in painting a picture something is being taken apart to put back together: there is an inherent risk in breaking it. And as a Haitian-American immigrant and painter, Robert views the world critically as a contradiction of mass-communication and increased voicelessness.

Interior and contemplative, his topographical abstractions blend merging specificity with a wandering, poetic ambiguity, a strategic opacity abetted by his layers and deconstructive application of paint —mosaic-like in assemblage, in its finish, its resolve. He often references the Creole term lakou, which denotes a plot of land encompassing a variety of meanings and usages; communal, self-regulated, of tribal affiliation, and holding a nontransferable inheritance, physically indexing ancestry through multi-family units and reflective of Haiti’s colonial past, historical contradictions, and the possibility of a black metropolis, highlighting and addressing the experience of migrants, their day-to-day, further questioning colonial notions of a promised land and hegemony.

Significant group shows and solo exhibitions include Arrangements in Gray, organized by Greene Naftalie, New York, hosted by Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris, October 22, 2020-January 14, 2021. Pedestrian Profanities, curated Eric N. Mack, Simon Lee, New York, October 29-December 12, 2021. Hannah Hoffman Gallery, Los Angeles (2017); the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Chicago (2020); Hammer Museum, University of California, Los Angeles (2019); Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas (2018); and The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2016).

Recent grants, awards, and residencies include the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Artist Grant (2020). MacDowell Fellowship (2020), Foundation for Contemporary Arts Roy Lichtenstein Award (2019), The Studio Museum Harlem Artist-in-Residence (2016–2017), Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture Residency (2016), and the Whitney Independent Study Program (2015).

His work is included in the permanent collection of the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles and The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York.

“Through the notion of the lakou and marronage as preservation of culture and heritage pride, and by setting the Harlem street coordinates of 1-2-5 as the title of the show, Robert’s paintings pulse between historical contradictions of a colonial past and the possibility of a black metropolis: a city that is guided by economy, place and friction. In Robert’s work, symbols are simultaneously clear and veiled at the same time. In Robert’s painting Check II Check: A Livin’ Just Enough calls to mind the massive numbers of underbanked people in America, and evokes the parallel economy and industry sustained by the labor force that, as described by the Marxist geographer David Harvey, fill the subway every day to make the city live. The same labor force use this economy to send money to Haiti, Mexico, and the rest of the former colonies. The paintings become the scenes where these forces appear as a substrate. A contemporary neon pop sign such as the “Checks Cashed” is forced into ambiguity without losing its identification. The sign is depicted as not only language, but as signifier of a place, an economy, and a history. Andy Robert transforms this background into painting, and painting into a material and conceptual medium, developing a language and a place that are built in the same instant of spectatorship, opening the possibility of re-inscribing the transcendental characteristics of the lakou in the present.” Amanda De La Garza

While at MacDowell Robert worked on developing a new series of drawings and paintings. He delved further in the development of his abstract language, process of experimentation and thinking. In conceptually working to develop his practice in an experimental framework and within the premise of a painting being oral, vernacular and/or sound. Thus, Robert is continuously questioning, breaking away from and resisting motif, and in so doing, in his own pace and time, his rhythm—he is vulnerably pushing to develop his work his vocabulary into spontaneous and unforeseen ways:

"In the remote landscape of New Hampshire, in eight weeks of deep contemplation and study, I thought I could (and would as planned), continue with my work—continue with painting, which reflects on my process which abstracts recognizable imagery and sign. I had hoped this time would bring forth a change in pace, sometime alone, with myself to gather my thoughts and thinking. I had intended to engage both in conversation and study; and in furthering my writing, my journaling and reflections which process and work through an accumulation of thoughts -ideas and experiences; (of life, personal experiences, as well as in time spent thinking through research materials, in unpacked recent travels and trip to Cape Town, South Africa). Much of my thinking at the time was private and was wrestling with my attempts to process memory and working through observations and imagery I’d come across and/or collected. Imagery and memory, personal and historical, that drew on notions of nature, landscape and plantation; autonomy and maroonage, in which further questioned refusal.

Despite the changing social effects brought on by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, at MacDowell, unexpectedly, I ended up meeting a number of interesting new people and artists; and attended equally a number of brilliant and inspiring readings, artist presentations, talks, and performances. A night owl, I'd stay up late delving and combing through the enriching and beautiful James Baldwin Library. Where I'd spent some days drawing from behind its numerous glass vistas; its many windows allowed for deep contemplative looking, and called me to draw observationally from inside—pen & ink drawings and washes; which looked out into the crisp air and onto the snow-covered fields and forest. While drawing I'd occasionally spot families of white tailed deer, and ravens; also on routine walks. In drawings (sketches seemed to always start as doodles) and would on occasion grow and mature into more detailed and intricate works; as my thoughts and thinking roamed various texts I had brought with me in hand. In contemplation, I spent much time thinking about Allan Sekula's work and with his writings, alongside arrange of Surrealist, Caribbean Discourse and Black Feminist thought. My notes and journaling from MacDowell range from thoughts on painters Beauford Delaney, Wifredo Lam and Frank Walter, and the writing of Pierre Guyotat; to essays by Ralph Ellison and André Breton, and poetry of Amié and Suzanne Césaire, and Édouard Glissant."

“The painted symbol coexists with the oral sign. It is the tightly woven texture of oral expression that is introduced into (and the key to) Haitian painting. The Creole language in Haiti does not suffer the repercussions of the radical ambiguities created by writing, because of an early confrontation with writing and the creation of a dense cultural "hinterland." Haitian Creole is practically insulated from transformation. The painted symbol is its refuge. To this extent any picture painted in this style is also a form of writing. That is a form of painting that produces a schematic version of reality; the beginning of all pictography. A painting that makes memory significant through symbols: the essentials of a kind of historiography of the community. But this writing does not transcend reality. It is not a kind of literary process. It is the symbolic notation of a seldom-seen side of reality. It is both a means of communication and a transfer of knowledge for the very people who cannot write. It demonstrates by its visual form the specific nature of orality (...) nothing contrived in the perspective, nothing artificial in the silhouettes, nothing watered down in the colors; Haitian pictorial discourse thus proceeds by the piling up of the visible, in a massive accumulation, it comes all at once. And in the ability to create fantasy from a difficult, even wretched reality through seen element of the marvelous. The marvelous is first and foremost an oral phenomenon. Let us reiterate this fact: Haitian painting is derived from the spoken.” -- Édouard Glissant



Andy Robert worked in the Alexander studio.

Originally designed to be a visual art gallery, this facility was built in memory of the late John White Alexander (1856-1915) and funded by Elizabeth Alexander and their son James. John White Alexander was highly regarded as a portrait painter and, in the early part of the 20th century, served…

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