Curatorial introduction by Maela Ohana
My first encounter with Richard Roblin’s abstract work presented itself in the form of a big blue painting, suspended above an assemblage of houseplants in a living room in Montreal. A shard of evening light had carved its way in through the window, throwing an illuminated geometric layer onto the already complex composition. Open and radiant, the piece filled the room with an astounding generosity of spirit, embedding itself in my mind and periodically resurfacing during moments of contemplation.
And so it is with immense pleasure that I present – years later, a solo exhibition of Richard Roblin’s work at Archive Contemporary. “Richard Roblin: A Wondrous Journey” is on view from May to July of 2020, featuring a selection of the major Canadian artist’s abstract paintings from across multiple series. A micro-retrospective of sorts, this exhibition highlights works oscillating between stillness and exuberance: bold, stirring pieces that embody the awakening essence of Spring.
An internationally acclaimed painter, Richard Roblin’s work features extensively in private and corporate collections the world over. His work has been exhibited in galleries, museums and fairs such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal Museum of Contemporary Arts, Bermuda National Gallery and numerous international art fairs.
The brilliance of Richard Roblin is how he ignites a creative chemistry between artist and viewer, a primorial communication based on the silent language of colour, texture and form. His dynamic and boundless compositions act as mirrors. Each viewer interacts with the work differently and sees reflected what they bring to it. Despite stylistic variations across series, his work is often characterized by structured overlays of colour punctuated by delicate traces and markings that carve their way across the canvas.
Roblin spent his early years under the luminous skies of Saskatchewan, where the wide prairies served as his first sources of inspiration and an expansive horizon illuminated his consciousness. The visual palette of the natural world continued to serve as an undercurrent throughout his career, and continues to inspire him on Vancouver Island where he currently resides. His artistic trajectory brought him to Montreal in the late fifties, where he lived and worked for numerous years. His travels across Europe, Asia and the Americas were also formatively significant to his painting practice, each new environment presenting an aesthetic array of textures, tones and teachings to incorporate into his artistic language.
The dialogue between inner and outer topographies is perhaps the most prominent theme weaving through Roblin’s extensive canon. To stand in the presence of his works is to participate in the artist’s lifelong spiritual yearning – to embark on a guided journey of reflection and meditation on inner self. Yet most of his works depart from a place of external observation – drawing on compositional exploration informed by the artist’s passion for sculpture, design, and the natural world. Admiration for Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture, as well as the Japanese traditional influence on contemporary design inspired Roblin’s “Fallingwater” series. Incorporating veils of opacity and colour, points and planes, these pieces sensitively transmit the formal articulation of architecture into syncopated compositions. Overlapping rectangular shapes and arcs accentuated at times by high-keyed colours combine to poetic effect – transporting the viewer to an imaginative space where natural elements interact with the sensual materiality of a built environment. In the early eighties Roblin discovered the visionary designs of Luis Barragan during a retreat in Mexico. His subsequent “Wallseries” draws parallels between the architectonics of spirit and the physical world around us: light and shadow dancing on painted walls acting as a metaphor for the ephemeral transformations of our innermost states.
In the Yantra series, luminous colours and primary geometric elements – circles, squares and triangles – converge to mirror the stream of creation. Yantras are expressions of light, deriving from the Sanskrit words for sustenance and expansion. Using these ‘visual mantras’ as a conceptual point of departure, these works deliberately engage with the energetic properties of colour, crystallized in geometric form.
The Spanda and Monogram series shift away from soft-edged compositions towards a sharper tonal clarity. Spanda reaches a dynamic pitch of rhythm and cumulative power, while Monogram is composed of punchy and extroverted works which vibrate with alertness. The Monogram series and Monogram Muse on Arches paper are playful explorations of iconography, which lend themselves well to individual interpretation.
Most recently, “Here & Now” and “Jewels of Perception” adopt a quasi-archaeological approach to materiality, excavating crevices within the topography of paint to reveal splendid interiors. The radial Here & Now series symbolically bridges the vibrational inward movement of perception with the centrifugal force of our deepest inspirations. In a similar technical vein, the “Jewels of Perception” are revelatory paintings; the canvas is approached as a site of excavation where concealed treasures lie waiting to be discovered.
Bringing together works from each of these series, “Richard Roblin: A Wondrous Journey” highlights the magical luminosity and depth of Roblin’s artistic canon. Each of Roblin’s paintings is a portal to the heart, a primary impulse moving to a universal resonance. “I love to paint”, Roblin says. “The nature of my painting activities is to engage with the magical resonances of colour and form. I play with the dynamics of luminosity to reveal the sense of joy which inspires it. My process of painting is to begin by drawing with colour, a line or shape. Everything that emerges is defined by that primary impulse which is like the leap of a dancer onto life’s stage. Suddenly, the canvas begins to light up. Each canvas is an open door, a dance circle, a symphony of breath breathing its life through the action of the artist. Each artist, an understudy of creation itself, re-enacts the birth of the universe.”
In a time of increased political and environmental anxiety, art that offers a moment of quietude – of clarity and joy, occupies a position of remarkable importance. Fearlessly esoteric and unabashedly profound, Richard Roblin’s art is a breath of fresh air, both reflecting and addressing our contemporary zeitgeist of spiritual seeking.
“Richard Roblin: A Wondrous Journey” can be viewed at Archive Contemporary Gallery, 2471 Rue Centre in Montreal, from May 9 – July 12 2020. Information: 514 -549 – 8885 or www.archivec.art