Robin Symmes, Painter

Robin Symmes is a graduate of Queen's University with an honors degree combining classics, fine art and art history. She paints using both historical media and subjects. Her glazed oils framed in gold leaf are luscious and intimate. Her large sketch-like paintings, up to 10 feet in length, share stories of human expression, at once mesmerizing and evocative.

SUSAN: Welcome to art-in-canada
Robin. In this month's issue is a list of the top 10 artist searches from for the month of February.

ROBIN: Boooooo! They're all dead!

SUSAN: I know.

ROBIN: And none of them are local.

SUSAN: That's true. And I think Robin Symmes should be somewhere right in there!

ROBIN: Yeah, I know!

SUSAN: I have asked you here today because your work reflects the masters. I read your artist statement where you wrote you were captured by them.

ROBIN Yes, I was.

SUSAN: What do you think the difference is between the dead masters and living artists?

ROBIN: They are known. There's lots of information on them. They've all  that hype, all that P.R. behind them because of All the history and writing about them. That's where it's hard when you're an individual artist. You don't have the time to writeall that stuff about yourself, about where you came from, about what your work is all about. You just want to get the work done and get it out there. That's the most important thing. The masters had lots of P.R. and agents over years and years.

SUSAN:. But not when they were alive.

ROBIN: Not necessarily when they were alive, true.

SUSAN:. How many paintings did they sell when they were alive?

ROBIN: How many were starving ?!

SUSAN: How many were wealthy? 

ROBIN: Not a lot. Many of them depended on patrons. They didn't have day jobs. They had guys they had to answer to. They slept in their house, they ate at their dinner table. So, they had compromises to make. Artists today have to make compromises too.

SUSAN: Where have those patrons gone?

ROBIN: Well, it's just a different type of thing. Your patron is your day job, or your government grant.

SUSAN: Why do you paint?

ROBIN: Why do I paint? Because I HAVE TO. I would be mental if I didn't. I have to make stuff. I have always been that way. I will always be that way. I have to make things that I think will make life better. Better to look at, better organized, morebeautiful.

SUSAN: So, are you earning a living at this?

ROBIN: I would love to be, but I paint so slowly.

SUSAN: How long did it take you to paint your 7' - 10' painting "Detail of Song and Dance"?

ROBIN: I didn't sleep a lot when I painted that. It probably took me ... mmm.. 6 months to finish, between sketch and preliminary to finished product. "The Market Lady"  took 1.5 years with all the glazes. The time is worth it, but half of them haven't even been seen yet. They are off the stretchers and in storage. I take them out if someone is interested in seeing them. Transporting and shipping is another whole dilemma. That's where I think Galleries are so wonderful. I'm happy to pay them to do all the work. I love painting large. I can't stop. I am always stretching and challenging myself.

SUSAN: You just can't do the same thing forever.

ROBIN: No, my large paintings are done for now. I'm working on medium ones ñ 3.5' ñ 4.5' and I'll probably work my way back up.

SUSAN: So, you really love big.

ROBIN: Exactly! You know, I say to my clients who come in, "Build a room to fit it. Just renovate!".

SUSAN: Do you think that a lot of people are starting to recognize today's artists and getting excited about new works?

ROBIN: I am excited about it. I think the reproduction print market has dropped off. 5 - 7 years ago it was still ok, but I hear people saying "oh, I have prints, but I just bought this piece for $300.00! I love it!I am optimistic that people are getting excited about original art.

SUSAN: Can we talk a little about the internet?

ROBIN: Sure. YA. I'm a techno-moron but hey?!

SUSAN: Do you have a computer?


SUSAN: Do you think that the net will increase people's awareness of modern artists?

ROBIN: Well, it gets your name out there. There's just so much information on the net. I don't know if we'll overload on the Internet. It is nice that a non-dead artists can get on and get their pieces out. They may not have that opportunity. You don't have to drag your 10' piece out of a gallery. It gives a viewer an introduction, a taste to the work. But you can't touch it and put your nose up to it.

SUSAN: Do you think you can get yourself and your art out to the world easier because of the net?

ROBIN: Definitely. Yes. I tell people all the time. Here's my site. Have a look.

SUSAN: Change of subject: What's your favorite color?

ROBIN: Black. Black has always been my favorite. It's absorbing. It's powerful. Everything goes out of it and comes into it. It's unusual if you don't find black in my painting. Black is a challenge. To put black in a painting and have it not take over is a challenge. That's my key word. Challenge! That's how I live. Won't it be a challenge today to do this...

SUSAN: Did you draw as a child?

ROBIN: Yes. I knew in grade 4 that I'd be an artist. My teachers were very forgiving. In high school they let me do my art as long as I came in for exams.

SUSAN: What would you like to accomplish in your lifetime?

ROBIN: Ok. I want to make lots of stuff. I want to leave the world with things people enjoy looking at. I want to make stuff that I enjoy and that I think pushed me to the best of my ability.

SUSAN: So, one day in the year 2033, we'll look at the top 10 list of artists in "artcyclopedia" and see Robin Symmes will be at no. 4 and rising.

ROBIN: Awesome!

SUSAN: Would you like your paintings to be around in 100 years?

ROBIN: I hope they stand up, are still relevant and have something to say. I love looking at old photographs and drawings - traditional stuff - because they still have so much to say. I do hope my work will speak to people in 100 years.

SUSAN: Do you think artists today can get the incredible training as the masters before us?

ROBIN: I've looked for it. I've looked for the best teachers and the best schools, but you still have to do it on your own.

SUSAN: You don't have someone you are working under?

ROBIN: No. I'm still looking for it. I'm trying to take Robin Symmes at her best and work under her as a master. I'm still trying to stretch and say -  ok. If this is the best that I can do, would I like this picture? Would I scrap it? I tend to want to throw things away after the first week! So, I put them away for a while and work on them later. I hope I will find a master. I take a little bit from here and there. If I see something that I feel is really strong, I'll take it and use that in my work. It's got what I'm looking for. I'm learning all the time. I really have that ticking clock inside. I'm looking for that challenge. I knew in grade 4 and had my first show at 15. People say to me "Wow. You're so lucky. You've found what you're passionate about". But it's not that easy. It's maintaining a life that I can practice and continue my art. That's my challenge. It's having a job that lets me pay the bills and lets me work at the same time. I'm number one for seeing art as necessary in life. You just can't live without it.

SUSAN: Now, that's the truth!