‘Live Strong. Make Prints’

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Robynn Smith – “I’m an Alizarin Crimson kind a girl!”

We first met Robynn over a can of bright red ink at the Southern Graphics Council Printmaking Conference in Portland back in 2016. Robynn’s passion for colour runs deep – hearing her wax lyrical on the dreaminess of indigo, the exquisite nuance of a particular shade of burnt sienna or discovering she is a ‘fool for Bistre and Sanguine’ …….is a pure delight. Whilst ‘nerding out together on colour theory’, Robynn penned the line ‘In paint, I’m an Alizarin Crimson kind of gal’. A lovely turn of phrase and Cranfield’s Angela Brown couldn’t help but dig a little further. Her personal adventure with colour is a fascinating and intensely personal story  – best told in her own words:

 

I remember my final evaluation in my sophomore painting class: “Robynn is a creative person, but she is weak in the areas of drawing, composition and color.” Great! What else is there??!

 

Those words sparked a concerted effort to master the techniques of drawing, composition and color. I threw away my tubes of black and white oil paint, and concentrated on the relationships of hues for many years.

 

I taught color theory and became known for the wide-ranging color relationships in my large paintings. 

 

Then something happened.

 

While at a residency at the Vermont Studio Center in 1990, I began working with an umber colored asphalt and white gesso on wood panels. I applied the media to the wood as a way of building up textural surfaces, planning to then paint over them, but I became fascinated with the surfaces and the layers of achromatic marks. The severely limited palette sharpened the imagery and forced a stronger figure/ground relationship. I was creating a rich world of values, from dark, nearly black umber to the stark white of pure gesso, with the golden glow of the wood serving as middle tones. I was able to scratch through and re-apply layers of material, creating seemingly endless values and textures.

 

In 2002 I reintroduced color to my paintings. Twelve years of value only and I was never bored. When I came back to color, it was very judicious – one or two colors only, along with the umber and white, and the color was applied as a stain rather than a topcoat. It seemed to emanate from the images themselves. Because my understanding of value was so strong at that point, I didn’t need color to serve that purpose. The color was applied as an emotional element, charging the imagery through views of sap greens, indigo blues and blood reds.

 

Working without color for over a decade, made me a far more effective colorist. By the time I brought color back into my paintings, my explorations in printmaking were becoming quite serious, and I dove into those luscious cans of etching ink with a nearly primal ferocity!’

 

And that brings us back to our meeting in Portland and that can of bright red ink. Little did we know at the time but it was a definitive, life-changing moment for Robynn, setting in motion 18 months of exploration and discovery with her college students. A printmaking adventure that would lead to a series of cutting edge studio-based research projects with our own range of Cranfield Caligo Safe Wash Inks and Robynn’s decision to transform her beloved Blue Mouse Studios and Monterey Peninsula College into fully non-toxic workshops.

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Puunene #1 – Solarplate etching with collograph 2017

 

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Song of the Mud-Solarplate etching w/ Chine Colle, 2016

 

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Burial #1-Solarplate etching, 2016

 

Here’s one of Robynn’s diary entries that reflects something of the thrill of the ride:

 

May 2017 ‘Today was one of the greatest teaching days of my career. The excitement in the studio today was physical. We were literally jumping and dancing around the classroom and swapping plates with each other’

 

‘Like a hound following a scent, I am driven by the pursuit of an idea! A problem arises and I am determined to find a solution. This is true on every level, from finding the right brushstroke in a painting to creating a work of public art with my students.’

 

Robynn seems to have access to about 12 more hours a day than the rest of us mortals. Her working life is testament to her passion for printmaking and unquenchable creative energy. Her own education has instilled in her ‘a deep intellectual curiosity, a willingness to follow a path to its conclusion, an openness to welcome the unexpected. I feel these qualities continue to serve me well as an artist and as an educator’

 

Founder of two vibrant studio spaces, Professor in Studio Arts at Monterey Peninsula College, visionary behind the joyful global celebration that is Print Day in May – Robynn still finds the time to travel extensively as an internationally exhibiting artist and colourist in her own right. From a collaborative clay-printing project in Iceland to an all-age workshop in Somerset, England  – it’s a non-stop ride!

 

In the studio and in travel, the play of the unknown and the known is seductive: a jolt of energy that wakes up the senses. I seek out teaching and exhibition opportunities that take me out of my comfort zones, blurring the lines between abstraction and representation, seeking out the profound resonance of the unexpected.’

 

Robynn started The MPC Printmakers in 2005 and it’s now a dynamic hub on the Monterey Peninsula, with an international reach. ‘With over 80 emerging and established artists, we encourage the use of non-toxic printmaking, learn from one another, run workshops, go on field trips, push the boundaries of printing, exhibit, bring in guest speakersand the print parties are great too!

 

‘I always loved the group dynamic of musical performance and the theater. The camaraderie, the feeling of joining with others in a profound creative adventure. It is in part why I chose to nurture and be nurtured by others in an artistic setting. Painting is such a solitary pursuit, which is probably why, along with painting, I have always been involved in areas of art that require collaboration, such as ceramics, sculpture and printmaking.

 

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Robynn’s studio, Aptos, California.

 

At her own beautiful and light-filled Blue Mouse Studios in Aptos, California, Robynn runs more workshops and when the classes end, the excitement doesn’t and she’ll often ‘carry on printing like a fool! I’m also deeply driven by my relationship with animals – I’m a serious rider, and spend quite bit of time in the barn and on the trail, often with a swift whippet. Catch me if you can!

 

My work is a visual record of my connection to the world. I travel with intent. Through pilgrimage to places of historical and psychological impact, I have collected a vast library of images that I use to travel between the present and the past, connecting the dots of humanity’s magnificent opportunities and repeated mistakes

 

I am drawn to works that challenge the distinction between representation and abstraction – a Diebenkorn rooftop that melts into a brush stroke, a Bonnard armchair that dissolves into light. I believe narrative can be expressed through both – so the story of a battlefield unfolds through recognizable objects such as guns and tombstones as well as the ephemeral depiction of atmosphere and movement.

 

To be successful in print, unexpected turns must be taken – the unfamiliar embraced. Ink becomes paper becomes image. An inadvertent dot in a plate prints as a perfectly formed ray of light.

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100 solarplate relief and intaglio prints, each 11×15″, 2015

 

Since my first trip to Iceland in 2011, imagery from the country has seeped into my paintings and prints. A land of terrific beauty, where the profound forces of nature govern daily life. Each corner turned is a new discovery. ‘Stampede: 100 Icelandics’ is an installation of one hundred solar plate prints of Icelandic horses – based on 100 Views of Mount Fuji, Hokusai’s wood cut prints of the 1830s. I’d heard that Icelandic horses can be a 100 different colors. I found myself testing the theory.

 

Finally, Robynn is exhibiting her work from September 1st – October 26. See below for more details.

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Useful links

www.robynnsmith.com

www.printdayinmay.com

www.mpcprintmakers.wordpress.com

Cranfield Caligo Safe Wash Inks

 

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