Meet Robert

February 21, 2012
Meet Robert/tumblr lzo6q5svRD1qhe3wu

A Q&A with Uprise artist Robert Otto Epstein, currently featured in The Finch & Ada Collection:

Where are you from and where do you currently reside?
I’m originally from Pittsburgh – Steel City, USA – where I rooted for the Pittsburgh Steelers and where my father worked as a mechanical engineer with US Steel. I moved to New York a few years ago, and then re-settled in Providence, RI. There’s a strong artist community here with great loft spaces. I live and work in what was once an historic factory that manufactured cast-iron butt hinges. I’ve lived here nearly two years and I still don’t know what a butt hinge is.

Who are some of your favorite artists?
Martin Ramirez, Henry Darger, John Wesley, Joseph Cornell, David Hockney, Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, Elizabeth Peyton, Lucian Freud. I have a special affinity for outsider/untrained artists who were on the “margins” of society. Because of this outsider-ness they weren’t limited by the rules of academic/traditional art making. Some may have thought they were crazy in their lifetime, but in many ways they were just living in their own worlds, which made their imagination limitless.

How are your knitting chart paintings created? How is your process related to the act of knitting?
The knitting chart paintings are as much about process as they are about the final product. I begin by finding a chart that strikes my fancy. Then I make a pencil grid on paper to set up a foundation. I work very systematically, even obsessively, painting each sign and symbol, paying particular attention to every marker on the “map.” I always begin at the bottom of my paper, painting each square one by one and then moving up the page line by line. I’ve always been interested in modes of production, the machinery of “making.” I like to consider the body at work in the vain of Gilles Delheuze’s “desiring machine” – as a kind of round-the-clock factory setting where the assembly of “being” and “doing” and its creative wares are one in the same.

Your paintings on paper, including Margaret and Ray Bradley, have a vintage feel to them. Where do you draw your inspiration for these images?
I’m generally inclined to be sentimental about things that came before me. When culling through my vintage source material I tend to experience a kind of longing for the past as though I had lived it, which is something I should probably consult a therapist about. More to the point of the figurative paintings having a vintage feel – my parents are originally from Romania and Lithuania, respectively, and I think the imagery found in fashion/style/beauty magazines from the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, like the communist era conformist aesthetic, is so posed and naive. I love it.

What is something people would be surprised to discover about you?
That I hated art class in school. As a kid it didn’t make sense to me. It was too forced and not freeing at all. I’d rather have been studying the blue prints my father would bring home from work and then try to draw them myself. I had to come around to art in my own way, on my own terms. Well, that’s how I become interested in anything, really. It has to be on my terms.

Robert’s original paintings are available to Uprise members for subscription ($50/month).
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