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Check Out Robin Hextrum’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Robin Hextrum. 

Hi Robin, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
I always loved making and creating art, whether it was folding intricate origami patterns or drawing pictures. When I was twelve my family moved to a small coastal town called Stinson Beach in Northern California where I developed a passion for nature. That still comes out in my work with its focus on plants, animals, and natural settings. I spent my days hiking up mountains, surfing, and kayaking. My neighbor across the street was a painter, and she gave me drawing lessons in exchange for babysitting her daughter. When I was in high school, I took my first figure drawing classes at a community college and felt the excitement of being in a more serious art environment. I then went on to USC for undergrad where I continued to pursue art. I have always been a very curious person and I wanted to experience everything in college. I joined the marching band, was on the women’s rowing team, and completed a double major in Fine Art and Neuroscience. After I finished my undergraduate studies, I wanted to pour all of my energy into my art. I went on to complete an MFA in painting at Laguna College of Art and Design because they have a program specifically for representational(realistic) painters. I really thrived in this MFA program. I took the time to paint and study with dedicated representational artists. I then decided to get an additional degree in Modern and Contemporary Art History at UC Riverside because I had begun teaching art history lecture courses in addition to studio courses. After I graduated from this program, I got a full-time teaching position at Regis University. I moved from southern California to Colorado and my art career started gaining much more momentum. I am in my fifth year as the drawing instructor at Regis University and I show my work at Abend Gallery in downtown Denver. I’m in my studio almost every day doing what I love. 

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
It was not easy to get to where I am today, and I consider myself fortunate to have made it here. I have had harsh critiques of my work. One professor took pleasure in walking around our drawing classroom and proclaiming that he would never hire us because we were so terrible. He told me I was really a “rowing major” not an art major because my drawing ability was so poor. Though I felt like a failure after hearing this feedback, I realized I wanted to master my craft and had to admit to myself that I was nowhere near where I wanted to be in terms of my skill set. I spent three years focused on painting in my MFA program and really developed my technique. After grad school, I applied to 40 teaching positions and did not even get an interview. I struggled to support myself as an artist, and at one point had five different part-time jobs. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have my current position now that I know how competitive the academic job market is. For a while, I focused on showing at artist-run galleries and co-op spaces because I struggled gaining entry into commercial galleries. The first commercial gallery I did get into let me go shortly after taking me on. I am fortunate to show my work at Abend Gallery now. Chris Mileham and Dave Ethridge are wonderful to work with. I have certainly had doubts and periods of deep frustration with pursuing my current career. I think the hardest part is navigating personal doubts. You spend a long time investing everything you have into your creative career, and you have no idea if it will lead to anything. It is not like becoming a doctor or a lawyer. There is no set path. You are always questioning if you are doing things the right way. Fighting off my own doubts and sticking to my vision has paid off now, but it was not always easy to work towards an ephemeral target. The more you let those doubts creep in, the harder it is to make great work and keep following your dreams. 

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
My work uses traditional and contemporary painting practices to comment on our relationship to the natural world. Each painting represents the uncertainty and chaos inherent in our connection with the environment. Oversized flowers take over natural environments or swirl together within abstract shapes. Some paintings are realistic, yet surreal in their juxtapositions. Others provide combinations of abstract and realistic renderings to avoid any sense of resolution and to heighten the feelings of change and dynamism. My work draws formal elements from both traditional movements like Dutch Still Life painting and contemporary movements like the Leipzig school. By incorporating traditional and contemporary painterly elements, the paintings allude to the fact that our complicated relationship with the environment has been an historical and contemporary issue. My work provides a platform for conversations about how we connect to our natural surroundings. None of these paintings provide clear solutions or answers to our predicament. Rather, they allow us to sit with that feeling of uncertainty about our collective future. I believe art provides a valuable avenue for processing these existential threats that can be both healing and transformative. I think my work stands out because I make complicated and meaningful contemporary paintings that have a broad appeal. I strive to make beautiful paintings that appeal to those who are not “in the know” about the art world. And, I also want these paintings to hold something complex and engaging for viewers who have a high degree of visual literacy and academic training. My paintings walk a fine line between different worlds. Representational and Abstract. Traditional and Contemporary. Beautiful and Unsettling. My work is also sincere. Though I do love all forms of traditional and contemporary art, I do not have patience for art that is too disinterested, overly ironic, or insincere. I love art that comes from a deep personal source and meets the viewer with urgency and sincerity. I strive to have this quality in my own works and feel quite fortunate that I now get to spend my days making art. 

So maybe we end on discussing what matters most to you and why?
Outside of my close relationships with friends and family, and of course, my cat Jack, what is most important to me on a personal level is being able to spend time making interesting artwork and pushing my boundaries. I have worked hard to build my life around making work. I make it a priority to carve out painting time every day so I can stay engaged and connected to my work. I put my art first as much as I can. I find that getting time in the studio grounds me and makes me feel whole. I really need that time to create and explore each day. Beyond my passion for making art, I believe in compassion towards all life on this planet. I have been some form of vegetarian or vegan for 10 years, so it is no surprise that I often paint animals and find them very sympathetic subjects. I make monthly contributions to support the Humane League, which fights for animal welfare and specifically focuses on combating the cruelty of factory farming practices. I also find myself increasingly drawn to the effective altruism movement after reading Peter Singer’s book The Life You Can Save, and have been donating to charities like The Fred Hollows Foundation and Give Directly to do my part to combat global poverty and suffering. The world can be so daunting and defeating sometimes, I think it is important for all of us to chip away at making it a better place by doing our part. 

Contact Info:

Image Credits:

Derek Parks
Wes Magyar

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