Arresting the Ordinary: Emil Robinson at Abattoir

Emil Robinson, Untitled Interior, 2024, Oil on illustration board on panel, 18.5 x 23.5 inches, installation view at Abattoir Gallery.

Here is the quantum of breath held upright before the exhale, here are the questions we all carry underneath: where does that hallway lead to, what’s beyond that door, who is here and who is not. Cincinnati-based artist Emil Robinson explores the graceful yet unsettling nature of inside spaces in his solo show, Interiors at Abattoir Gallery, on view until June 1.

Painted over a six-month stretch, Robinson’s series of oil paintings focus on those places we walk on by daily: closet doors left ajar, the noble arch between hallway and living room, off-centered approaches to windows overlooking a collage of empty courtyards. Most are infused with such luminosity shimmering from windows seen or unseen; that cooler light of an early winter afternoon when time stretches between one thing accomplished and the next yet to do on the list.

Emil Robinson, Untitled Interior, 2024 Oil on illustration board on panel, 19 x 15 inches.

Here is Edward Hopper light reinterpreted. These whites aren’t white: pastels lurk underneath with the grey of grief, or carry that pearlescent luster of untold layers of white paint in an old rental apartment. And when color appears, it is in tones softened like a magazine ad from 1942 printed on pulpy paper.

Emil Robinson, Untitled Interior, 2024 Oil on panel 20 x 18 inches.

In one painting of an open door (most works in this show are “Untitled”), visible brushstrokes hold down the evanescence that swirls around the void of a doorknob’s backplate, interrupted by gouges and chips on the door’s edge. Crystal doorknobs sparkle and hide in the shadows; listen to them whisper “Pay attention to the minutiae that you pass by every day.”

In another, a black tote bag hangs on the back of a door, gathering all the light of the shadowy foreground. Light pours in beyond the room’s transom, quietly pounding the floor in two golden strips and gilding the edge of the far wall. Robinson is interested in peripheral details: the rough edge between the baseboard and floor in the corner, the tiny rectangles of paintings way-off inside that second room. Again, the door is ajar, and the widow suffused with both light and utilitarian air conditioner.

Emil Robinson, Untitled Interior, 2024 Oil on panel 20 x 16 inches.

Another work presents an anonymous, commercial-looking doorway with its minuet of rectangles—Exit sign, vertical windows, handle, blank sign—that suggests the breathlessness of a hospital portal but offers a glimpse of a cozy, dusty library within. Maybe that inner room is a mirage, guarded by those heavy white doors bearing scratch, scratch, scratches within the equally heavy strokes of paint.

Robinson is transfixed by transitional spaces and thresholds. “A door takes on various actions and identities, paradoxically changing from moment to moment,” he says. “It is a stable boundary and a way to get between spaces. There’s the reminder of vulnerability in the lock, and a reminder that one is always able to move to something else.”

And then there’s his preoccupation with door handles and mechanisms, which appear throughout this show in the loving details of knobs, latches, handles, hinges, and lock plates. “In a painting they take on a physical presence that for me is a little mysterious. They are both functional machines and also seem like discreet sculptures. They stand for meaning, for the human potential we project onto our surroundings.”

Robinson calls himself a realist painter who is interested in the abstract. “Feeling is, in a way, an abstraction,” he says. “If I can paint a thing that we have a name for in the real world, maybe the mystery or energy or spirit of it can make the strangers who see it be able to name and grasp that feeling.”

Emil Robinson: Interiors

April 19 – June 1, 2024

Abattoir Gallery

3619 Walton Ave (Suite C 102)

The Hildebrandt Building

Cleveland, Ohio, 44113

Open noon to 5 pm Fridays and Saturdays.

The opinions expressed on CAN Blog are those of the individual writers. Art is somewhat subjective. Well, somewhat. But yes, everybody's a critic.

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