ONE OF MANY ROBERT RUSSELLS
A Conversation with Artist ROBERT RUSSELL
By Tyler Malone
Not long ago I was friended on Facebook by another young writer named Tyler Malone. It felt odd. I knew, obviously, that my name wasn’t exclusively mine, that the popularity of my given name and the pervasiveness of my surname inevitably left me as “one of many.” Yet when faced with another Tyler Malone–and not just any other, but one with similar interests and life goals–I found myself both curious about this “other” and distressed by his very existence (and the implications it had on my identity and the uniqueness of my own existence). It left me feeling a potpourri of emotions.
I can only imagine what that potpourri must be like with an even more common name such as Robert Russell, a name which has its own Wikipedia disambiguation page. One such Robert Russell, an American artist living and working in Los Angeles, has explored this idea of identity in the age of the internet by googling various other Robert Russells and painting their portraits for a series titled “Men Who Are Named Robert Russell.”
I spoke with one of the many Robert Russells–specifically with the one who painted that portrait series–and we discussed not only the exhibition of his paintings of fellow Robert Russells, but also his previous work, as well as the role of the artist in society in general.
Tyler Malone: Tell me about your most recent exhibition “Men Who Are Named Robert Russell.”
Robert Russell: The show began as a triptych a few years ago and sat in the corner of the studio threatening to become a much larger body of paintings. All of my work tends to feed on itself. The concept was an efficient tool for me to use to posses a subject and get right to the work of making a painting–like a cheap buffet.
TM: In doing research on you, I did end up stumbling on many other Robert Russells through Google as well. In the age of the internet, and at a time when more people exist on the Earth than ever before, what is in a name when there are so many others who share your name? Everyone inevitably runs into the same identity problem, no?
RR: I became very interested in all of these contingencies–the name finally just becomes another irrelevant distinction.
TM: Perhaps this is another irrelevant distinction, but I’m curious if you have a favorite Robert Russell other than yourself?
RR: There’s a man called Robert Russell that I’ve friended on Facebook who seems like a very thoughtful guy.
TM: I also found interesting your paintings of classic coffeetable-style art books. What drew you to that idea of playing with the Masters in such a way?
RR: That project was a way to vaporize the influences that have haunted my practice for years. By staging them within the context of still lives I could play with the images in a painterly and experimental way without sacrificing their verisimilitude. The eye of the viewer becomes very lazy when the pictures are staged in that way allowing for my exploration of another artists method to become my own.
TM: When did you first realize you wanted to be an artist? And what drew you to painting as a medium?
RR: It just seemed to always just be there, like breathing. Painting always felt important and I wanted to feel important.
TM: Who are some of your biggest painterly influences?
RR: Rubens, Rembrandt, Raphael and Richter are the ones that start with “R” that have had a big influence on me. It would take too long to go through all of the alphabet so let’s just use the “R”s for now, since it’s the first letter of both of my names.
TM: What is the role of the artist in society in this early part of the 21st century?
RR: To be generous and kind and extremely critical.
Robert Russell is an American artist working in Los Angeles, and one of many humans with the name Robert Russell.
Written by Tyler Malone
Photography by David Crotty for PatrickMcMullan.com
Design by Marie Havens
Robert Russell, Robert Russell for PMC Magazine Fall 2013 Issue, Private Residence, Silverlake, CA, August 9, 2013, Photography by David Crotty for PatrickMcMullan.com
All Artwork © Robert Russell, Robert Russell “Men Who Are Named Robert Russell” Exhibition, Francois Ghebaly Gallery, Los Angeles, CA, July 13, 2013, Photography by David Crotty for PatrickMcMullan.com