Fast Forward: Walter Robinson in the Studio

From his studio in Long Island City, the artist Walter Robinson talks about finding his signature style of painting, the themes behind his work and his love of pulp fiction.

Hi, I’m Walter Robinson, we’re here in my studio in Long Island City.

I came in New York to go to college, and I spent the ‘70s in Tribeca and SoHo.

During all that time, I was seeking some kind of autograph, art style of my own, something that I was comfortable making.

Towards the end of the ‘70s, I realized that I wanted to paint the style of pulp paperback covers from the ‘40s and ‘50s.

I wanted to reject all the avant-garde, I wanted to reject all the posing and the phoniness and  I really liked the way these paperback covers were painted. They were disappearing, it was a disappearing format.

So it was a little bit of a preservation and a prize, plus, I thought that, that was real, that really, that captured something. I related to it.

So basically, I was looking for images of couples embracing.  I might have had an ulterior motive, because as a young man, it seemed that young women liked pictures of couples kissing. So I found that gave me a certain kind of sex appeal, I liked that.  

I lived on Ludlow Street, And, um, down the block on Delancey Street, there were lots of outlet stores, and I could, you could go there, and buy the sheets there. So I thought, “I’ll make some paintings on bedsheets, and then I can—I don’t have to ship them, I can just fold them up and carry them. The inspiration for painting on patterned bedsheets I had gotten basically from Sigmar Polke, he painted a lot on printed fabrics and stuff.

The one the Whitney has turned out really well. It, it’s a really beautiful pattern sheet. It’s got pink roses on it, it’s really beautiful. I don’t know how—where it comes from. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find one that beautiful today. But it’s sort of an accident, and obviously the contrast of the spy, the tough guy … with the pattern of the rose is kind of amusing.    It’s a self-portrait, that’s the artist as a macho figure. In a way I think that all my paintings are about evolution, and about biology, and about desire, which underlies everything in the end.