DECATUR — In one alternate dimension, there may be a version of Jeff Robinson who devoted his life simply to painting, to capturing the purest expression of his creativity on a two-dimensional surface. In another, Robinson could have become a sculptor, molding and shaping metal or clay to capture the same artistic ideas.
But the Jeff Robinson whose work will be on display throughout February in Decatur is neither of those two men — he’s somewhere in between. What fascinates the Springfield-based artist is where two and three-dimensional objects meet and intersect.
“I got my start as a very traditional, representational painter, but then made a sharp turn into abstraction in grad school,” said Robinson, whose gallery “Sacred” is now on display in the Kirkland Fine Arts Center’s Perkinson Gallery. “Shortly after that I started incorporating various found materials to create a dialogue between the materials and my painting.”
This dialogue has continued to evolve, first in finding objects to match paint and then paint to match objects. Robinson’s finished pieces often take the form of wall-mounted boxes packed with an amalgam of small, unusual objects, which range from staircase banisters to pieces of vinyl flooring and duct tape. Paint is then applied in a variety of ways, forming a background and modifying texture. Some objects look like they’ve been literally dipped in paint, with drops rolling lazily down their sides. The bright colors clash with the scuffed, naturalistic nature of the found objects, creating a striking contrast. There’s a lot going on, to the extent that Robinson finds people often say photos don’t really do the three-dimensional pieces justice.
“My work has emerged from a fascination with depth arising out of the flat world of painting,” he said. “I try to see how it goes both ways, like how can these three-dimensional found bits reference the flat world of painting? It’s about finding some sort of commonality between them.”
To this purpose, truly “found” objects offer the most challenge and sincerity. Robinson prefers to work with these weathered or battered objects he encounters in everyday life rather than go out looking for them. Taking into account the personal history attached to every bauble he finds along the way, he is given a greater challenge when he attempts to influence how his audience perceives that object in its new form.
“In this show, I was really trying to strip each material of its typical association and give it a new context removed from its history,” he said. “I noted, however, that the completed pieces looked rather like sacred objects from some storied past, which is why it’s called ‘Sacred.’ They look like transcendent objects that hold some mystique because they seem like they were made for some important purpose.”
Of course, sometimes the completed object is directly inspired by the mundane as well. Some of the wall-mounted objects, with their dozens of small, colorful pieces, look like nothing so much as a suitcase tightly packed with a child’s toys.
“I just tend to think of a very organized, structured way,” Robinson said. “I’m interested in how things are packed and organized for some function like travel. Oftentimes, something surprisingly beautiful emerges from that process.”
“Sacred” will remain on display until Feb. 28. The free gallery is open Monday-Friday from noon to 5 p.m., or by appointment.