To say this interview has been a long time coming, is the mother of all understatements, but to know the editorial process is to know that nothing worthwhile comes before it’s time. This artist, a man I met a few years ago at a show here in Miami during Art Basel Weekend, is definitely worthwhile.
From the moment you meet Robert you’re held to a higher standard. He likes to say “steel sharpens steel”, but he doesn’t give that accolade to anyone, it’s a vibe that precedes it, a vibe that tells him you’re the real deal and that you equally gravitate toward as a reward of sorts, for your originality and genuine character.
Robert didn’t get where he is by being lucky… he’s actually quite humble so he’ll say this and that, but his work ethic shows you better than I can tell you. Robert puts in WORK! He knows he has the talent, he knows he has the energy, he knows he deserves to be on the walls of the most prestigious galleries in the world. The beautiful thing about Robert is that he doesn’t HAVE to be in order to feel validated. He’s the genuine article… comfortable and blessed showing at a pop-up exhibit at a grand opening of a storefront across the country or at a civic event in suburban Oklahoma.
See, there’s a swagger that comes with knowing your greatness, and an equally strong humility that keeps him from being labeled as cocky. What I see in Robert is something that is desperately needed among artists emerging in the industry today. Too many people pour out their souls onto the canvas and ask for people to like what they did. You need to know what you did was great, because it’s what YOU wanted to create, and the accolades that come in recognition of the greatness that work ethic breeds is a side affect of that passion, not just a reward. Robert is collected by some of the greatest accomplished celebrities in the world, but I know he’d appreciate a print sale to a young artist looking for that inspiration and example far more than the big original masterpiece sales he enjoys… it’s more than the glory, it’s the gift, it’s the process. Let’s hear Robert’s take on his stellar success and drive in his own words.
Please take a moment to meet the artist: Robert Petersen.
Q: Let’s begin with how you got started as an artist. Is it a gift you’ve always had? Talk about how you took your art to the next level in the form of a professional adventure.
I picked up a paint brush for the first time in 2012. It’s kind of a tragedy to triumph story. I was injured while running on a treadmill at work & it broke. The sudden stopped caused a hard jolt which broke a part of the socket in my hip. Once my doctors informed me I was facing hip replacement surgery I decided I would try my hand at painting. I seen painting as a form of escape, something to keep my mind occupied so I wouldn’t be depressed about the surgery and my hip. What I didn’t know is that that decision would forever change my life. I created my first painting in June of 2012 and with the help of social media by March of 2013 I was doing my first solo show in NYC.
Q: Take us on a visual tour of your studio space. What should we watch out for? What should we see before anything else? What do you cherish most about your space? Talk about how your creative environment affects your art/your style?
I’m am very much a family man. My studio started off in my master bedroom bathroom. I don’t my first two shows having created all artwork out of that bathroom. By the end of 2013 I was creating larger pieces that required more room and ended up relocating to my garage in order to remain close to my family. Entering into my studio you will find three separate easels. Each one always has a painting on it. Sometimes a one may have one completed and drying while the other two may have unfinished pieces at different stages. There is always some music on. I can’t paint in silence I have to have something blasting lol.
Q: Your paintings are so incredibly vibrant, and the subjects radiate with a life of their own. What materials do you work with when creating your art? What is your creative atmosphere when you create (loud, silent, ambient noises)? Talk about your creative process. Are there different stages or do you just grab the brush and get after it?
Whenever I create I have to have music playing. I love to work with oils but I still play around with acrylics and spray paint occasionally. I always replace my brushes after each painting so you will see new brushes piled up on my studio table.
Q: Your portraits of Dorothy Dandridge, The Obamas, and your Native American pieces are, if I HAD to choose, my 3 favorites of yours. Can you talk a little bit about the INSPIRATION behind those paintings, and also… talk a bit about how your style has developed since you began creating?
I think as an artist we all go through various stages in our careers. I began painting Native American pieces as an escape from painting celebs. Working with live models inspired me to try and create new paintings of celebs using live models, multiple images of the celeb and photoshop to bring it all together for a unique painting that looks as though I had the person sit in for the painting.
: Your work is in some of the most well known celebrity collections, and some very esteemed public places. How do you prioritize what environments you choose to exhibit your work in? Do you create with an idea of the finished product’s destination?
Honestly no I don’t plan on where I think the work will end up. My goal is and has always been just to paint something that I feel good about and that hopefully will move Gods people.
Q:Do you have any current series’ in the works? Talk about your experiences with your shows, do you seek out specific events, environments, etc. to show your work?
I just finished up creating a small body of work titled “We are Kings”. I wanted to portray black men in a way that I feel we don’t get a chance to be seen in often enough. This body of work will be heading over seas to Australia to show in 19 Karen Gallery. This gallery is absolutely amazing and Terri is just as amazing. The group show will open up in Nov. Other than that I’m building work for galleries that represent my work in Brooklyn, NY, Oklahoma City, OK & Los Angeles, CA. The newest gallery to represent my work is this amazing gallery called Patrick Painter Gallery, both Patrick and I have huge plans for my career. I’m excited to see what we both come up with as far as shows and work.
Q: Can you recall and would you talk about your most recent burst of inspiration? Did it come at an unusual place or time? Do you ever put yourself in a particular situation/environment to try and attract ideas or inspiration?
I’m always inspired. I’m inspired by family, God, life and other artist.
Q: I normally ask about your most recent exhibit, but I know you recently had your Bison portrait sell for over $12,000 at a charity auction. Can you talk a bit about that and what you brought back from that artistically/inspirationally/emotionally, especially as it pertains to the feeling of your first sale ever, same, different?
Every sale, every collector and every painting is a blessing honestly. Not many people are able to do what they truly love and be able to provide for their loved ones. I don’t take it for granted, I’m always thankful. Having work auctioned off for charity is always a blessing. I’m very selective because charities will reach out once they hear you’ve worked with another charity. This particular charity is Oklahoma A Plus. It’s the best organization I’ve every worked with.
Q: What do you hope that the audience takes away from their time spent viewing your art? What made you smile at your last exhibit? What made you gasp/cringe/retort/etc.?
My goal with each show is to create works of art that move people. Whether it be something that makes them happy, fills them with joy or touches on something that makes them think, whatever it is, that’s what I want. If they walk out unbothered, then I feel as though I didn’t put on the best show I could have. I’m very hands on in all my shows, I’m something like a curator hahahahaha.
Q: Robert, I am absolutely honored to be allowed to discuss your creative life with you. Being an artist myself I know how deeply personal some aspects of our process are, and also that there are those times we wish we could reach out to our audience and give them a better context of our passion, so thank you for being so open with all of us. I know the audience will all want to know where/when they can see your work currently? What is the best way to find out where you will be exhibiting next (Website, Facebook, etc.)
Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity and the platform. People looking to see my work can always check out Facebook, Instagram and Twitter by looking up @CalebLee81 or by visiting my website www.caleblee81.com