Thomas W. Robertson


Artist Statement

I enjoy the intuitive process of working between abstraction and figuration.  I have found the process to be both rewarding and surprising; when I feel that things are getting clearer, I usually stumble upon areas of mystery that draw me deeper into things.

Inevitably, life finds its way into art, and my recent work arises in part from a family matter:  my father and his father both have lost most of their memories to Alzheimer’s disease.  Doctors say that odds are I’ll end up with it, too.  Though I’m still young, memory – making it, keeping it, losing it – has become a major concern.

Like any child, I study my father for clues to where the future may lie.  Sometimes his world seems to be a blank slate, beautifully new.  Other times a rush of memories leaves him emotional, with holes shot through stories that lead nowhere.  Images peek through, but neither he nor I find a way to understand what they are.    So I have turned things over to art.

I start with tracing old family photos of my grandpa, dad, and/or myself and silhouetting the figures.  I make layers of minimal marks and subtle color.  Screen-printing shoots the figures full of holes, eroding their identity and aping the disease, even as the voids serve as windows through which to peer at deeper data. 

The blank roll of paper is a tabula rasa, a field of unformed memory.  As I work, an impression starts to take shape.  The drawing and painting is spontaneous, like a quick drive to the mountains or lunch with friends.  The printed moments are necessarily planned and structured, like scheduled events - vacations, graduations, weddings, or days at work.  Blue plastic and tarpaper link back to summers working with my grandpa on his farm.  I make interior cuts to remove information.   Sometimes I boost the scale of certain parts, in a way that can feel like telling and retelling a fish story – exaggerating reality and distorting facts.

The finished work is dramatically lit.  Shadows speak of time and twilight, and straddle the known and unknown.  They can change like the histories people tell.  The shadows integrate the work with the wall, making the gallery the apparatus for the visitor experience. 

I regard each work as a Rosetta stone, a cluster of codes that jumbles created images with family records, resulting perhaps in more questions than answers.  My brain may one day prove to be a genetic time bomb – time will tell.  For now, my process of building, writing and retelling personal history suits me fine.