‘Shrouds’ by Robert Sample
Reviewed by Gareth Stevens
Robert is a gentle and humble man with a pronounced sense of fun. However this belies the fact that his work is both profound and challenging. Although only partially figurative, most of his works feature monochromatic figures sculpted in paint with such skill that they instantly recall the works of the masters of the renaissance, religious art and even the later styles of Théodore Géricault and George Bellows. The protagonists in each painting seem forlorn and overwhelmed by existential angst. Stripped of colour they avert their gaze from the viewer and some look skyward in search of redemption and clarity.
PICTURE: Tim Willcocks
His work talks to us about alienation, the ever widening gap between personal experience and the disorienting and kaleidoscopic chaos of the globalised cultural world around us. The people in Sample’s work are on the edge and are neglected; they struggle to connect with society. They neither fit in nor have they found spiritual solace, but what we see here laid bare is everyone’s struggle for meaning. Trying to put in words what Sample does so deftly with paint feels like an act of betrayal. The paintings say it all. There is magic at work here, firstly because of the stunning way Sample manipulates paint so skilfully to bring these visceral figures into existence and secondly because he so successfully combines this realistic method with large, gestural and expressive brushwork that tips its hat toward abstract impressionism. The abstract backdrops for Sample’s figures are made up of bold brushwork that is proud not to depict anything else but the brushwork itself. In some ways this signifies the exhilarating freedom that is just out of reach of each of the people depicted in the paintings.
Fusion, that is combining usually disparate elements in any form of artwork, is inviting trouble. I know some would say it is just postmodernism playing out but let’s be fair, it’s risky and often only delicious hot and disgusting cold. I am pleased to say that Sample’s work hits the sweet spot. Although this juxtaposition of different approaches is right in your face, the result is seamless, effortlessly articulated and has definitely led to the overall sum being much greater than its parts.
New Art always rides the boundary between an Oedipal love for its mother traditions and the burning urge to create the new. Like the two faced Roman god Janus, new art is forever looking back and looking forward. Here we have a magnificent series of paintings which both builds on Art’s lineage and also looks ahead. ‘Shrouds’ is an exhibition that exudes authenticity. There are few of us who could accomplish anything like this in terms of technical achievement and emotional depth.
Ascension by Robert Sample
‘Shrouds’ by Robert Sample runs until 23rd June and is hosted by the very wonderful blackShed gallery in Robertsbridge. Being accustomed to stepping off busy high streets in London into galleries, it was so refreshing to take the walk from the station, through the village to the working farm where blackShed is to be found. Somehow the setting helps you to prepare a mindset more conducive to seeing these works. This Arts Council-funded endeavour is the labour of love of Kenton Lowe. Get along there, you will not regret it!
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