Earlier this week, I took my three kids with me to Long Island City to visit my artist/writer friend Walter Robinson at his studio. I met Walter when he was working as the editor of artnet.com. It was a time when art writing was just starting to go online.
Walter has been a pioneer his entire working life. He edited a brilliant art mag in the ‘70s called Art-Rite. In the ‘90s he co-hosted a cable TV show about art called Gallery Beat. He did spin paintings over a decade before Damien Hirst. He coined the term “zombie formalism.” I could go on and on about Walter. Spend 10 minutes and read a great interview with him here.
My kids are 15, 12 and 7—boy, boy, girl. “We’ll go to lunch at PS 1,” I told them. “It will be fun.”
We contemplate brownies
We got on the train. Finally we arrived at Walter’s space, which was crammed with paintings. Walter has had a long history of painting objects of desire: pulp fiction girls, jars of lubricant, beer, pages from the Land’s End catalogs, snack cakes, more.
My kids wandered around. My older son looked through a book of paintings of nude playing cards. My daughter took 40 pictures of one of Walter’s detailed paintings of an inverted cheeseburger.
Love this one
One painting; 1/40 pics
I have felt lately like I took a wrong turn somewhere, and I have needed some help getting turned around. It’s not one thing I can point to. I’m still sober. I’m still writing. I’m still parenting. I’m still with Frank. It’s something else.
One of the reasons I love artists so much, and love talking to artists, is that their job is to find their own way. Their job is to go inward and find their way forward from there, alone. I love those lines from Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet: “You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you – no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself.”
Art is not literal help, like giving someone money on the train. But for the times when there is no help except the way in which an individual can turn her life around by changing her view of the world—in that moment, art can be a god. That is why I am always comforted by art, and I always want to hear about the ways in which an artist teaches herself to see differently.
One of my favorite pieces Walter had in his studio was a small painting of a slice of lemon cake. It floated, bright yellow, against a prison-grey background. I called it a spiritual snack. I asked Walter if it was for sale.
“No,” he told me.
“I have to keep some work for myself, don’t I?”
I smiled. I needed to hear that.
It was Tuesday, which, as it turns out, is the day PS 1 is closed. My kids and I said goodbye to Walter. He gave us all the candy we could take from his candy dish.
We talked about which paintings were our favorites on the train ride home, and then for a couple days after that.
Find out more about Walter here.
Amy Fusselman is the editor of Ohio Edit.