A portrait by Lawrenceville Artist-in-Residence Stuart Robertson ’11 has been selected as one of 42 finalists in the in the sixth triennial Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, which invites artists to submit work that challenges the traditional definitions of portraiture.
Robertson’s work will be presented in "The Outwin 2022: American Portraiture Today,” a major exhibition premiering at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC from April 30, 2022, through Feb. 26, 2023, before traveling to other cities in the United States.
Reaching the finals of this prestigious competition is “awesome, it’s validating” Robertson said. “Knowing that I was able to produce something that is this successful feels great but it just means more work. I’m excited.”
Robertson is Lawrenceville’s first Artist-in-Residence, a position that requires him to produce his own work, maintain outside art world connections, teach, and develop co-curricular programming for Lawrentians. Robertson will expand the work he developed during his yearlong Graduate Fellowship residency at the Headlands Center for the Arts after earning his MFA in art practice from Stanford University, where he taught and mentored students at all levels. An honorary member of the Class of 2018, Robertson entered education as a Visual Arts teaching fellow at Lawrenceville while earning his master’s degree in education through the University of Pennsylvania Independent School Teaching Residency program. Robertson received a B.A. in studio art from Davidson College.
For the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, artists living and working in the United States are invited every three years to submit one of their recent portraits to a panel of experts chosen by the museum. The finalists in this year’s edition were selected from more than 2,700 entries. The first-prize winner, to be announced in the spring, will receive a cash award of $25,000 and a commission to create a portrait of a living person for the museum’s permanent collection.
While the title and image of Robertson's portrait cannot be revealed until April, he shared that the work was created in 2019 while he was completing his MFA at Stanford. One of the unique aspects of the portrait is the result of experimentation with different materials.
“I'd been using cardboard, rubber, plastic, paper, and more to make assemblages, and upon my return to the figure, something inspired me to cut up the metal cans and see what happens,” he said, explaining how he ended up using the material for the portrait’s skin.. “With the matte black hair absorbing all the light and the aluminum reflecting all the light, it has this sort of come at me, stay away from me effect, a push and pull, because of the literal reflection,” Robertson said. “And when I put the gold earring on it, I just remember feeling like, yes, that's kind of nice, that works.”
The portrait does not feature the entire face of the subject. “If you can't see the full likeness of the subject, then you can't claim the full identity of that person,” he said. “Along with very formal concerns about movement and perception, there’s always a question of how much to reveal and withhold at the same time.”
Using the metal, he said, “is about light and texture and visibility. I can layer any number of metaphors onto it. It's armor, it's flamboyant, it's bling, it's flexible. it’s indestructible, it's percussive.” It’s also a very industrial-looking material with an aesthetic that is simultaneously old (commercial use of aluminum began in the late 19th century) and futuristic by association to action figures like the “Black Panther” Panther or the Silver Surfer. So [when creating with aluminum], I get to include references based on time, technology, optics, materiality, and so much more,” he said.
Robertson pointed out that many who witnessed the advent of the camera believed portrait painting was supposed to die. “And then artists said, all right, cool — we'll just do things with color that the camera can't do, or with perspective, depth, and tactility,” he said. “So you have cameras, which were meant to enhance the documentation process and then painting inadvertently or by design, became way more expressive.”
Lawrenceville’s Artist-in-Residence program is just beginning, and Robertson is eager to show students the life of a working artist. He’s teaching Foundations of Art in the fall and winter, and will add a painting class to his roster in the spring. Robertson also hopes to work with students on art projects outside of class, “their passion projects,” he said.
“I want students to feel comfortable to stop in the studio, ask questions, and show me their work. We can talk and collaborate,” Robertson said. “I want to model for them what it's like to go through that process of creating the work and sharing it, because making art is only about 40 percent of the job. Then you have to do research and complete applications, you’ve got emails to write and networking to do… It’s a lot more work than you expect.”
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