We caught up with Robert C Withers to hear more about his excellent architectural/abstract-style artworks.
You describe yourself as a landscape artist, but your work is heavily urban. How do you resolve that tension? Do you believe there is much difference between painting country and city?
I don’t differentiate between inside or outside the city, if what I see is on land then it’s a landscape. I just reflect my surroundings, when I am at home the Inner West provides my subject matter. Often landscapes are portrayed for their beauty, the inner city is far from that yet it has a particular attraction … multiple light sources, mad angles, shapes and clutter. It’s real rather than idealized.
What role does observation play in your work?
I spend as much time studying/photographing and sketching as I do producing the final works. The studies I do generally tend to be quite realistic, more of a record than a work in themselves. I keep work diaries and my records become a narrative for my practice, I can trace my evolution and maintain a consistent approach even when my time available to paint becomes fractured due to the demands of work and family. I always admire artists that can draw well as that to me is a legitimate platform to develop from, when I am outside drawing it is a way to remind myself of my roots, and although my final work is highly stylized it grew from something very craftsman like and valuable to me.
Do you think your time in Malaysia affected your aesthetics? If so, in what way?
I do love Asia and go there when I can but I’m not conscious of any real influences from that part of my childhood other than loving Malaysian food!
What is the aesthetic appeal of Sydney's Inner-West - e.g. Sydenham Factory?
Well, I guess that firstly it is the environment that I live with every day. I occasionally make forays out into the country to draw but mostly I just like to step outside and get to work. The light industry that has developed around where I live in Summer Hill, Marrickville and Sydenham has an appeal because it’s real, it’s (on the face of it) ugly and messy but when I see it I see it as shapes and light. It is also important that I am real, that I am portraying my environment, people can at least recognise the inspiration for particular works, maybe even recognise actual locations which adds a sense of place and helps them relate to the work.
What inspired your 'tree' series (e.g. Flame Tree)?
I love trees and often go out drawing them maybe as an antidote to all the straight lines of the city scapes. Trees in the city always seem so lonely crammed into small spaces struggling away in the city so I tried to combine the city grime and materials and the shape of the tree together to make a real city tree often juxtaposed against a city-like object like a lamppost or a wall. Making these led me to build some other 3D studies, timber yards, chimneys and old buildings.
Do you think your use of found materials influences the meaning of the finished work?
I love the way street artists use the surfaces they have available and how those surfaces help describe and locate their work. Found objects often have a patina that can’t be consciously reproduced so they become a base to start working on and connect directly to the place I am drawing or inspired by at that moment.
What are you working on at the moment? Are you experimenting with any new materials?
I’ve been working with mixed media on heavy watercolour paper for the last few years and have just started back with oils on canvas, which is not as immediate but can be richer. I’ll continue to do both and may get back into the 3D studies as well.
You can see all of Robert's works for sale here