Paint and mixed media are Ellington Robinson’s mediums; history and place, his materials. Whether reframing a nebula on a vintage mirror or mapping vague geographies scarred over by the path of railroads, implying forced migration and arrival, Robinson frames the past and creates a window into its psychological toll on our present. His memories of growing up in D.C. and the Virgin Islands are nested in his head—images of colonial architecture, of vibrant Caribbean performance—along with his own wrestling with borders and identities. Beamed through his particular lens, his mass of referents and imagery form and re-form into enormously affecting and important pictures of who we once were and who we are now.
I MAKE: Objects that are an extension of my consciousness and who I am.
FIRST WORK OF ART I EVER SAW: Was at home. Arts were an extension of who we were as a people, and at that time—the ’70s through ’80s—a lot of artists were coming through the house: musicians, poets, Pan-Africanists. I was born into this world of critical thinkers from different professions who could sit down at the table to get a more rounded perspective on the issues of the day.
TO CREATE ART, I NEED: Love.
I WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW: That black is beautiful.
WHEN I STARTED CALLING MYSELF AN ARTIST: I was getting my MFA, and even then it was very hard. I saw people who came before me, and I knew the type of standards they had. I wanted to reach those standards before I could call myself an artist.
WHAT I DO WHEN I FEEL NERVOUS ABOUT A WORK: I work through it. Confidence comes through knowing that you will work it out. And that’s the fire that gets you up in the morning. If you’re too comfortable, you’ll never push the boundaries.
HOW I WORK THROUGH A BLOCK: Just showing up at the studio. You read, you travel, you go to the museum, but you have to find your inspiration; you can’t wait for it to come.
A QUESTION I CAN’T ANSWER ABOUT MY WORK: Where will it be in 400 years? Will it still be around? Will it be relevant? And is it necessary?
I’LL ALWAYS ADMIRE: My parents, family, our struggles, our history.
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