Interview With Robin Clare

Our treasured Robin Clare expresses her culture and subjective history through the use of paints and canvas. Having recently created a commissioned work for Nespresso, her other works sit in both private and public collections throughout the world. Her works dance off the canvas with all the vibrancies that life brings. Robin has applied colour and energy into a form of art that reflects the life of Jamaican and Caribbean popular culture.

How long have you created art for?
I've always loved painting and drawing, I started doing it professionally after I graduated from Uni. I decided to take the plunge and set up studio and haven't looked back.

How has your childhood contributed to the outcome of your current art style?
I spent my childhood between Belize and Jamaica so my earliest stylistic influences were of Caribbean art. My mum had quite a few artists friends who would allow me to spend time watching them and picking up technique. I've also always been fascinated with sign painting, when I was young most of the signs in Ja were still hand painted and I'd sit for hours watching the artists. I also used to love going to the local craft markets where I'd watch the basket weavers, painters and doll makers, I loved the colours and energy.

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What kind of genre would you stylise your art as?
I think I probably fall into the pop art category. My work is all about highlighting Jamaican and Caribbean popular culture through its entertainment industries.

Step us through your general art making process?
My process depends of the type of image I want to make. For my dance style paintings, I will spend time breaking down a particular dance move. At the moment I'm working on a move called Paper Bag. I try to capture the main gesture of each movement making up the overall dance, drawing it then using it to create a pattern, which I then use to create the overall image along with text indicating the name of the move. Each piece takes quite a bit of time, between a few days to a couple weeks. As the text and pattern needs to be drawn, I then outline the dancing pattern and the rest is a bit like painting by numbers. I build up layers of flat colour to create the overall image. For my other images I start by creating a digital collage of elements. These will be drawings, photos, text and pattern. I then use a grid technique to scale the collage up to the size of painting I want to do and spend anywhere from a week to a couple months painting and adjusting and adding or subtracting elements.

Jamaica and dance culture play a large role in your works - what is the significance of this within your works?
I'm from Jamaica and my family has been there forever so it runs through my veins. Although I'm not living on the island I'm still very keen to promote the culture.

How has your art evolved over time?
When I was in art school I was still experimenting and pattern was a big part of my work but my subject matter was very different. I was slightly obsessed with discarded chairs and white goods so I'd paint them in oils set against vivid coloured patterns. The style followed me out of art school and I started adding text to my work. Snippets of conversations, poetry or songs. Next came my fascination with dance, I'm a terrible dancer but I love watching the different movements made with the body. So gradually my appliances became dancers and this led to a wider exploration of Jamaican pop culture.

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You somewhat recently did a gig for Nespresso, what did this involve?
Yes! I created a massive painting for them. It was a really nice change, using my style to create work around a different culture. The very first film I ever saw in the cinema was The Last Emperor by Bernardo Bertolucci, which sparked a lifetime love affair with Italian cinema. I loved the passion, colour and texture so I tried to translate this into my piece making it quite a vibrant cinematic painting.

You’ve had some extensive experience and achievements in your life as an artist so far, what has been the most memorable or professionally beneficial?
The most memorable would be having my work up in the Puma Yard during the London Olympics as part of the Art in the Dancehall exhibition. That was really cool. I think the most professionally beneficial was probably the work I did for Stussy as it reached a really massive audience.

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A lot of your artistic education was carried out abroad, how has travelling (especially during your learning years) effected the way your art exists today?
I've always moved around so I'm not sure how it specifically affects my art. I was the first in my family to be born outside Jamaica (I was born in Belize) four years later my family moved back to Ja. I guess the most time I've spent in one country would have to be my childhood years in Jamaica. My teenage years were spent in Canada where I finished high school. Then over to the UK via a year in Ja to go to art school. And now I'm in Australia. I seem to be moving farther away from my island so maybe that has created a stronger bond and artistic vision for my practice..?

Do you think working with brand labels like Stussy/record companies and International sound systems like Mixpak Records and Million Vibes Sound, has contributed to your current art making style?
Yes for sure. With the Stussy project I saw my dancers animated for the first time and now I've been experimenting a bit with little animations. The sound system work is great as it gets me away from dancing and refocuses my on the music, allowing me to explore stylistically. I love the work of dancehall album illustrators like Tony McDermott, Limoneous and Sassafras and the sound system work has allowed me to develop a style in a similar vein.

You can see Robin's Nespresso piece here. And check out the rest of Robin’s art here.

Words by Lotte Thomson-Vock