Robert Lait

I began drawing at a very early age, spending countless hours with my tightfisted and myopic pencil renderings.  I started art lessons at twelve, learning oil painting from the local Grumbacher dealer and began learning about the renaissance.  My first visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art featured an exhibition by Vito Acconci. (Google him)  In high school I studied Escher, Duchamp and Vasareli.  By the time I saw the images of a wheel-chaired Matisse happily tapping his toe on the floor as he scissored his shapes, I knew that painting and the visual arts were what I wanted to pursue.

I’ve used watercolor and acrylic paint, but from high school all the way through graduate school I worked primarily in oils, always feeling that as a medium it provided for the most brilliant colors and the highest contrasts.  I love the glow of sunlight on the surface of oil paintings.  The reflective and refractive light gives great variety to tone and texture.  I enjoy the way oil paintings, whether representational or abstract, take on the atmosphere or sheen of the room they are in.

I try to make my images as if I’m going to be living with them for a long time.  I want them to reveal themselves over time and to forge different and multiple connections between the subject matter and the matter in which they are painted.  I think realism has much to do with the passivity of the viewer.

I typically work on three to six canvases at once, each surface gets covered in succession and the schedule is determined by drying times.  I put on many layers of paint, with different medium recipes throughout the process.  I use palette knives to apply paint directly to the canvas.  This gives me a larger variety of mark-making options.

I do consider the modern element of the “painters space” when working my images.  Stark angles, jarring horizon lines, odd subject placements and unusual scales all help to reinforce the notion that the entire surface of the painting is more important than any particular area or object.  In this view the surface is a type of subject or figure, and within the paintings’ borders, nothing is construed as background.  Everything always “structures” as figure.

My last year and a half of graduate school centered on a series of very large underwater paintings.  In the modern sense, they were field paintings, all over surface, with none of the usual cues denoting backgrounds.  The murky blue-green surroundings in these paintings seem thick and solid with fuzzy borders and ambiguous spaces. (Think Jacques Cousteau)  Eventually, my subject matter went above ground.  For a while I painted desert landscapes, rock walls and cave-man art depictions.  I spent a decade or so doing a variety of landscape subjects from woods and prairies to mountains and seascapes.

Preparatory drawings and collage techniques help me to take advantage of extremes in scale, direction and placement, the forgiving quality of oil allows for much corrections and refining.  For me, oil mediums provide the deepest tones, most brilliant hues and most tactile textures.

I try to make images that regard the “painter’s space”, that do not distinguish between figures and backgrounds, and that respect the entire surface.  The creation of realistic subject matter is greatly enhanced by applying abstraction.

I have always been fascinated by fish, whether in a goldfish bowl, a swimming hole, the aquarium, or at the market.  I am always amazed at their variety, how they move and their implicit connection to their surroundings.

Removing a fish (or fish) from its milieu becomes a semi-moral dilemma.  The acquired empathy is not readily encouraged (Daddy catch him on the hook, mommy fry him in the pan…).  Watching for the first time a basket of fish drowning in the air was, for me, a quasi-tragic event.    A proverbial fish out of water is one thing, but a literal fish out of water creates a moral discord, from which strange sets of meanings can be mined.

Through anthropomorphizing, cartooning, from old master depictions, scientific journals and metaphorical treatment, fish are only ever partially revealed.  When taken out of their element, in their new impossible condition, they remain jeweled and ornamented, varied, yet trapped and exploited, all this while referring simultaneously to their individual and collective selves.  These are among the ideas I have been grappling with as of late, always a journey.