New York

Tony Robbin

Allesandra Gallery

Perhaps I’ve grown up on too much literalist art. No matter how much so-called illusion there is in a painting, I just see something flat. Many people can’t seem to get over the illusionism in Tony Robbin’s work, and I don’t get it. I might quote Bruce Boice: “One kind of illusion is as real as another, and illusion is as real as any other allegedly real entity. A still-life painting is not less real than Carl Andre’s fire bricks. Illusion is a possibility, and in a certain sense, a necessity.” Boice was writing about representational art, but here it’s abstraction. Since there is no art which is not illusionistic, it all becomes a matter of degree, or taste, as to whether you think Robbin’s paintings are “too” illusionistic. And I thought flatness was no longer holy. Such a defense may sound odd in discussing a young, unknown painter’s art. But it is as much a defense in principle as a defense of the paintings themselves. They can be understood and enjoyed in many ways without reference to “illusionism.”

To explain some of the things which happen with the space: forms are presented in outline. These perimeters delineate planes which appear to recede or advance. There is no “one” space, no definite point of perspective as a whole. There is an almost Einsteinian “local” space, where forms are subject to laws only in their territory and seem anomalous in relation to other forms. To complicate matters, forms and spaces are superimposed, and we can “see through” them. The planes suggest spaces which are linear, analytical, and curved. Instead of masses and volumes, Robbin’s work must be seen as simultaneous topologies rather than as illusions within the tradition of Renaissance space. His is not tactile or sculptural space.

One thing about Robbin’s work: it doesn’t look “advanced.” It’s not shocking. He has understood the lessons of recent painting, and attempts to keep the surface “flat.” Robbin, for the most part, paints one-color panels. The “grounds” are one color; their outlines are matched and repeated colors. It is exactly when he drops that solution and that problem—the integrity of the picture plane—that his work starts to get somewhere. Two paintings, unresolved but solid, are more than one color, and how unusual that is! Color values are not stifled. Curves and arches, which are suggested in the planes and shapes, are overt and add an architectural variety to the surfaces. Lines appear to change color as the ground color changes. The linear shapes describe areas which in turn ignore and respond to the ground. Color is working with line, and neither is separated out for differing functions. The quality of color and line which Robbin works to achieve is decorative, arbitrary, patterned, symbolic, analytic, optical, sensuous, complex and finely detailed—qualities which abstract painting has been ignoring. Robbin gets it from Persian miniatures, and it is appropriate that the source is foreign. If abstraction seems to be at a low point right now in this culture it is from too much inbreeding and prejudices about what is “too much”—any illusion, intricate structure or varied color. That we have grown to accept these prejudices as normal accounts for the reaction of Robbin’s work, and why it looks so good right now.

Jeff Perrone