Robert Martin (they/them) currently lives and works in Chicago, USA. They earned their BFA from the University of Wisconsin-Stout and their MFA from the University of Colorado-Boulder.
A driving intention of Martin’s work is to demonstrate a reality of queerness within rural spaces, employing personal and historic reference. Through their practice, Robert seeks to combat the insidious notions that queerness is somehow unnatural, unprecedented and thus unwelcomed in rural America.
For those unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe your practice and style?
A driving intention of my work is to demonstrate a reality of queerness within rural spaces in order to combat the insidious notions that queerness is somehow unnatural, unprecedented and thus unwelcome. Queerness exists in rural America, yet it remains utopian to imagine its acceptance. Here I invoke José Esteban Muñoz’s formulations of and around the term “utopia” as explored in his book, Cruising Utopia. Muñoz’s theorizes that queer futurity is dependent upon an awareness of a queer past with the intention of critiquing a (perhaps heteronormative) present. The work is a layered combination of rural aesthetics, queer ephemera, and contemporary imagery, and as I ruminate on the interplay of these elements I am generating utopias. Painting gives me a tools to tangibly imagine queer futures while honoring a queer past.
What marked your entry into the art world ? Have you been creating from a young age?
I’ve always wanted to be an artist. I have a pretty vivid memory of drawing at the kitchen table of my first childhood home with my mom – so I must have been about four years old – and talking over what I wanted to be when I grew up. I remember feeling torn between wanting to be a pilot and wanting to be an artist and not knowing what I would tell my preschool peers the next day.
Can you name a few influences – visual artists or otherwise?
My upbringing was largely bedecked by iconic Americana artists such as Norman Rockwell, Thomas Kinkade and Terry Redlin, and I often look to artists like Grant Wood and J.C. Leyendecker as primary historical influences. I consider my work in conversation with contemporaries such as Jacob Todd Broussard, Jordan Ramsey Ismaiel, Matt Lifson, and Pacifico Silano.
Can you tell us anything particular about the paintings that you created for this exhibition? A story you’d like to share?
« Catcher » and « Peeper » are imaginary scenes calling upon a childhood spent catching Northern Leopard Frogs in ponds and banks on humid summer days. Perhaps I’ve been longing for simpler times of indulgent leisure and curiosity-driven recreation… perhaps I’ve been ruminating on the purity of being a child raised in nature. Either way, the paintings are dripping in sentimentality.