Interview with Immortality & Vulnerability artist Nadine Robbins

Nadine Robbins, a portraitist known for the insight and vigor she brings to her commissions, grew up in France, the daughter of an artist. Coming of age in a family and culture steeped in visual art decisively influenced her life and taste. Nadine studied first in France then continued her education in the US and London, eventually earning a BFA in Graphic Design from SUNY New Paltz. She achieved considerable success as the founder of her own firm – Namaro Graphics – while also developing and honing her skills in both photography and painting. In 2008, while looking through some of her old high-school artwork, Nadine came across a portrait of her brother she had painted and something in her changed. She remembered how much she loved to paint and how passionate she was about art. It was time to move forward, revisit her past and creatively start over. Working in her Hudson Valley studio Robbins has developed her artistic practice, gaining important commissions and critical notice along the way. Although she is not a photorealist, Nadine is a gifted photographer who uses her own original photos as the starting point of her paintings. Rejecting the rigid postures and heavy symbolism of traditional portraiture, Nadine invites her subjects to relax and to convey their inner states and desires. Nadine’s portraits are visually striking and attract attention. The first painting in the “Bad Habits and Guilty Pleasures” sequence impressed critic John Seed, writing in the Huffington Post. He chose Nadine’s portrait “Mrs. McDonald” as one of his “Ten Memorable Paintings for 2013.” Seed praised the “sultry mood and unique beauty” of the image, and was then inspired to write a second article “An Alluring Woman with Fries” dedicated to analyzing the painting more completely. He then chose the painting for the cover of a book he published entitled “10 Rather Eccentric Essays on Art” that included the second article. Her double portrait "The Golden Gown," has been hailed by critic Keith Shaw as "the best nude oil painting I've seen in the Berkshires outside The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown. MA. Nadine Robbins is a superb figure painter, and her double portrait is an American masterpiece.” Her large portraits “The Rolling Buns” and “Acacia and the Bowman” have traveled to London to be included in the Royal Society of Portrait Painters Exhibition 2 years in a row and several of her portraits are now part of the The Tullman Collection including “Double Gulp”. Nadine's work builds upon her intuitive visual  experience as a creative director. She digs into the concept of “personality” by merging photography and painting into design-influenced compositions striving to draw in the viewer by capturing an unspoken confidence, emotion or unique beauty.

Nadine Robbins, a portraitist known for the insight and vigor she brings to her commissions, grew up in France, the daughter of an artist. Coming of age in a family and culture steeped in visual art decisively influenced her life and taste.

Nadine studied first in France then continued her education in the US and London, eventually earning a BFA in Graphic Design from SUNY New Paltz. She achieved considerable success as the founder of her own firm – Namaro Graphics – while also developing and honing her skills in both photography and painting. In 2008, while looking through some of her old high-school artwork, Nadine came across a portrait of her brother she had painted and something in her changed. She remembered how much she loved to paint and how passionate she was about art. It was time to move forward, revisit her past and creatively start over.

Working in her Hudson Valley studio Robbins has developed her artistic practice, gaining important commissions and critical notice along the way. Although she is not a photorealist, Nadine is a gifted photographer who uses her own original photos as the starting point of her paintings. Rejecting the rigid postures and heavy symbolism of traditional portraiture, Nadine invites her subjects to relax and to convey their inner states and desires.

Nadine’s portraits are visually striking and attract attention. The first painting in the “Bad Habits and Guilty Pleasures” sequence impressed critic John Seed, writing in the Huffington Post. He chose Nadine’s portrait “Mrs. McDonald” as one of his “Ten Memorable Paintings for 2013.” Seed praised the “sultry mood and unique beauty” of the image, and was then inspired to write a second article “An Alluring Woman with Fries” dedicated to analyzing the painting more completely. He then chose the painting for the cover of a book he published entitled “10 Rather Eccentric Essays on Art” that included the second article. Her double portrait "The Golden Gown," has been hailed by critic Keith Shaw as "the best nude oil painting I've seen in the Berkshires outside The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown. MA. Nadine Robbins is a superb figure painter, and her double portrait is an American masterpiece.” Her large portraits “The Rolling Buns” and “Acacia and the Bowman” have traveled to London to be included in the Royal Society of Portrait Painters Exhibition 2 years in a row and several of her portraits are now part of the The Tullman Collection including “Double Gulp”.

Nadine's work builds upon her intuitive visual  experience as a creative director. She digs into the concept of “personality” by merging photography and painting into design-influenced compositions striving to draw in the viewer by capturing an unspoken confidence, emotion or unique beauty.

Explain to our readers how the two works in the show came to be.

In 2014, I asked Howard Tullman if he would like to participate in a new body of work called “Bad Habits and Guilty pleasures” and he said yes. Enthusiastically he answered that he drank "Double gulps" all the time despite the negative health consequences. By a fortunate stroke of serendipity, when Didi Menendez mentioned the “Immortality and Vulnerability” show to me, I thought his portrait would be a good match. It’s called “Double Gulp”. 

The second painting is called “She-ra”. Poet Matthew Hittinger's guilty pleasure is that he liked to escape and dress up like his favorite rebellious superhero, She-Ra, who has a secret identity. He is secretly observing the world around him and despite the odds, persists in his struggle to continue to write poetry in a world that has little use for it.

What is your guilty pleasure?

Hands down, it used to be smoking. I loved it. I breathed it. The romance of it. It was sexy. I used to pull on a drag and feel it go into my lungs and loved every second of it. I know it sounds disgusting but I still miss it 10 years after going cold turkey.

Today, food is now my guilty pleasure and bad habit. I take great pleasure in every bite. I savor the flavors. If it’s decadent I’ll gravitate towards it. Foie gras, cheese, confit, butter. Add in some miche bread and red wine. Heaven. I’m drooling thinking about it. A box of Cheese-Its is pretty awesome too. 

I understand oysters may be on that list. Tell us why you paint oysters.

Ah yes. Oysters. Those I don't feel guilty about at all. I love them. When we were kids, my dad took my brother, sister and I out on his boat outside of Charleston to find oysters and we ate them fresh out of the water. Years later, these fond memories led me to Cape Cod to taste the world famous Wellfleet oysters. During that trip I wanted to buy a painting of some oysters and I was amazed I couldn't find one. So I decided to paint some.

Do you enjoy painting commissions as much?

This is a great question. My portrait and oyster paintings balance each other out.

My first love is portraiture. But with commissions, there’s always the risk of slipping into having to paint someone else vision and I just don’t want to do that. I’d start to hate portraiture. Painting oysters is fun because people like them for want they are. Since they sell well, the paintings therefore give me the capital to paint the portraits I want to paint. 

Commissions are fantastic but I don’t actively seek them out. If people like my portraits for what they are, and give me the creative license I need, then I’m all for it.

Tell us what you are working on next.

I’m finishing up a few more oyster paintings so they are ready for the summer season on Cape Cod and then applying for several grants to get my “Bad habits and Guilty Pleasures” project off the ground sooner than later. Since I've been working so hard for the past year, I decided to take a break from painting this summer and dedicate my time to photograph people for the project, eating oysters and hanging out with friends and family. I’m already feeling inspired.

Didi MenendezComment
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