|Written as part of the catalogue essay for 'Con.fig.ured aspects of contemporary western australian figurative art' Exhibition Catalogue 2005 (Lawrence Wilson Gallery University of Western Australia and touring)
Kevin Robertson has created a series of works which present the back view of full length figures.
Here, a relationship to the past manifests itself in a conscious reworking of humanist conventions. The face and its expression, that which most readily and evocatively identifies the sitter in traditional portraiture, are denied. Robertson’s work may be seen to subvert an antique or Renaissance artist’s interest in the individual, and the potential for the face to evoke particular social and emotional states of being in art. Identity is, in part, defined by the uniforms worn by the figures–a dress implying work in domestic or retail services in Red Uniform (2004), and a dark suit appropriate to a white collar profession in Suited Man (2004). Whilst such clothing may suggest the sitter’s employment, there is a strong sense in which characters are simply dressing up, just as they
avert their faces to elude or confound identification. Ironically, however, and despite the absence of the physiognomy of the face, these works remain deeply expressive. This evasion and refusal to comply with convention, embodied in the vaguely humorous exposure of backside to viewer and artist, is not without considerable melancholic attributes. The imagined gaze of these characters is never towards an open window or landscape but, rather, facing (and in close proximity to) a wall. There is an almost punitive
aspect to this positioning which recalls being sent to a corner to consider one’s bad behaviour. The blank
wall acts as a kind of confessional in which the sitter must commune with, and confront, the self. The eradication of specific emotional and social indicators in these paintings works in concert with a general reduction in tonal contrast and variety, and pictorial detail. This may suggest a certain despondency towards the potential of portraiture to evince any kind of truth although, almost despite itself, the formula of the back (against a bland background space) works as a highly evocative motif. Robertson’s paintings present a clear point of contrast to the prevalence of symbols.
Dr. Sally Quin 2005 Curator Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery