Working on culture in a post-colonial world is more than just cultural maintenance. The post-colonial experience of travelling between different cultures is reflected in the visual culture just like the music and stories. Brian Robinson is like a DJ, or a curator, he was a curator at the Cairns Regional Gallery; mixing and making new sense out of diverse elements. He creates a visual culture mix, like a DJ mixing different sources with a beat to create new music to keep on dancing to.
Brian Robinson makes the kind of art that is loved by judges and the people; the kind of art that art writers and curators enjoy to write about and he clearly enjoys tells the stories of his art. Robinson also clearly enjoys making images with linocut, paper, spray paint, plastic toys, wood and even a shell can be the image of a shell. Story-telling, the myths and legends, are based on visual images as well as a words and his pictures often say more than a thousand words.
I went to his ‘floor talk’ Saturday 21 June at the Counihan Gallery. Robinson shines with friendly, informal, relaxed manner and he has a lot to talk about mixing memories of childhood with detailed knowledge of literature, Greek myths, Roman Catholic, Phantom comic books and popular culture. See a video interview with Brian Robinson on Creative Cowboy.
Robinson is not scared to do the masters, he references them in his linocuts; Leonardo, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, Hokusai’s Great Wave. Why should he be? Brian Robinson from Waiben (Thursday Island), Torres Strait, of the Kala Lagaw Ya language group. He is doing it Straits style, mixing in his own stories and he was the winner the 2013 Western Australian Indigenous Art Award and that year’s People’s Choice Award.
Robinson’s art is beautiful, often intricate but it can also be scaled up as in his massive, mixed media wall friezes. He a fan of the art of M.C. Escher and pays tribute to it in Dawn Raid Strategy, 2011. There is more to this image than just a tribute piece, it speaks of deadly strategies and games of chess. For above all his art is alive because he is playing – he must be a great dad except when he takes his kids toys to use in his art.
Robinson knows what it feels like to look for lost worlds under the sea. In his 2012 linocut, Navigating narrative – Nemo’s encounter in the Torres Strait, he creates an illustration for the one of the several chapters set in the Torres Straits in Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea.
“‘Savages!’ replied Captain Nemo in a sarcastic tone. ‘And you are surprised Dr Aronnax, that when you set foot on one of the lands of this globe, you find savages? Where are there not savages, and in any case, are those that you call savages any worse than the others?’”
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, trans William Butcher (Oxford, 1998, p.152)
There is so much to see and enjoy at Brian Robinson’s exhibition Strait Protean at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick. The title says so much about the way the Robinson mixes images; Proteus is the ever changing adaptable sea god. Much of the work in the exhibition was developed during a twelve month long residency that Robinson had at Djumbunji Press in 2010, his skill with lino cutting has been refined and developed to an amazing level. His adaptable vision makes him not just an artist for the present but also for keeping the past alive into the future.