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March 9, 2006

Art Beat

Portrait of an Artist and an Artist's Portraits


About 200 years ago, something happened that significantly altered the course of artistic endeavor: Photography was invented. Photography had the effect of making art aware of itself. Up until then, a painting or sculpture was the only way any kind of likeness of a person or other transient thing could be preserved. With the invention of photography, painters were forced to think about how a painting was different and better then a photograph, which can produce a very accurate likeness very quickly and cannot be accused of altering it, for whatever reason (at least not until Photoshop, but we won't go there today). Since photography could capture a perfect likeness of the moment, painters experimented with capturing movement, the change of light over time, fantasy -- all things that photography couldn't do. Or could it?

It's fascinating how things in our history reverberate. Photography had this big impact on painting, but the response of painters to photography had an impact on the people doing photography. First of all, many of the people playing with this new technology were artists already. So while some painters were emphasizing the things that painting could do that photography could not, others were trying to achieve some of these same painterly affects with photography.

Today, photography is still used a lot for mundane purposes -- displaying a product, or taking a mug shot at the police station -- but it can and does move back and forth across the line that separates craft from art (if there really is such a line). Robin Robin has been doing photography professionally all of his adult life. He says that he has always thought of himself as a craftsman, but is starting to rethink that lately. He currently has a show of large format black and white portraits up at the Morris Graves Museum of Art.

Robin came to this area about 11 years ago, after he married Stephanie Case-Robin. He grew up in Los Angeles, went to school and opened his first studio there. He's photographed the likes of Donald Sutherland, Timothy Leary and Donald Douglas (inventor of the DC-3). In the '70s, he had a photo studio in Paris where he photographed various Russian and Persian princes. He shot Paris air shows and fashion shows. He's won countless awards for his photography. In other words, he's had a long, varied and illustrious career. Moving to Humboldt County must have been a bit of a culture shock for him. After making a name for himself in Los Angeles and Paris, he's now trying to get himself known around here as well.

He's very skilled at photographing art and products. He's worked for many local artists and galleries, Mad River Glass, Fire & Light and Pacific Rim Noodle House, among others. But he missed photographing people. So they came up with the idea for Larger than Life, and presented it to the Morris Graves Museum.

Left: Robin Robin (with tie) and some of his "Larger Than Life" photos showing Shoshanna Rose Anthony (from Lailaa Chandani Dance Ensemble) , Shawn Gould (painter), AND Ronlin Foreman (theatre director, Dell'Arte). Photo by Stephanie Case-Robin.

Let me take a moment to explain that by "they" I mean Robin and Stephanie. Since their marriage, the two have worked pretty closely together on all of their projects. Robin always says "we" when he's talking about his projects. In fact, when I asked him where the idea for this show came from he said, "That's a good question," and turned to her. Well, it was partly just a way of getting back to the portraiture that he was missing. They had envisioned the whole thing -- the giant pictures on the walls of the museum. They chose North Coast visual and performing artists because they seemed like a logical fit for an art museum, but it could have been any other group. There were two criteria, other then the fact that they wanted the portraits to represent Humboldt County. The subjects had to be good at what they did and they had to be interesting people (which is not to say that anyone who is not in the show is dull and incompetent).

These portraits are unusual in that they are black-and-white, non-environmental pictures. The idea was to eliminate distractions and find what comes through the person. Robin, Stephanie and the subject engage in conversation, and Robin looks for instances of revelation -- moments when something of the persons character is revealed, some aspect of that person that is very much "them" but is not a part of their "public" face. This is what lends the photographs such immediacy. Viewing the photographs gives you the feeling of being with close friends. And, of course, in a way they are old friends, especially if you've been in this area for awhile and are familiar with a lot of the local creative talent. Whether you know them personally or not, you've probably been looking at or been entertained by their art for several years now. For a community that is passionate about art, this show is a special gift. A new way to see some of your favorite local artists.

"Larger than Life: Large Format Black & White Photographic Portraits of North Coast Visual and Performing Artists," runs through April 2 in the Anderson Gallery of the Morris Graves Museum, 636 F Street, Eureka.

In other news, the Ink People's annual fundraiser is coming up. The Artware Affair 2006 takes place Saturday, March 18, at Fortuna's River Lodge from 5-10 p.m. The event features food catered by Ms. M's Catering, an art auction and circus performers! Tickets are $40 and may be purchased at The Ink People and at other locations about town. Call 442-8413 for additional information.

There's still time to register for the 8th Annual North Coast Open Studios Tour: The registration deadline has been extended to Monday, March 13. Open Studios Tours are planned for the first three weekends in June. First weekend -- Middle Humboldt County, including Eureka, Fortuna, Ferndale, Carlotta, Bridgeville and King Salmon. Second weekend -- Northern Humboldt County, including Arcata and points north and east. Third weekend, Southern Humboldt. Register online at www.northcoast or phone 825-9039.

Got a local exhibit or art event that might make a good story? Send your art news to or write in care of the North Coast Journal, 145 South G Street, Suite A, Arcata, CA. 95521.


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