Solo Exhibition by Andrew Cornell Robinson, “Salted Not Sugared” on View in University Galleries

Andrew Cornell Robinson's Pentimento 3 (Silence Dogood), 2021, 16 ½ x 9 x 6 inches, glazed ceramic, pigmented plastic, archival print on paper, collection of the artist. Photo by artist.

Salted Not Sugared, a solo exhibition by artist Andrew Cornell Robinson, the 2023 grand prize winner of the William Paterson University Galleries’ national juried printmaking exhibition, Ink, Press, Repeat, is on view in the Court Gallery of the Ben Shahn Center for the Visual Arts on campus through March 22, 2024.

Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; admission is free. Cornell Robinson will give an artist talk on Wednesday, February 28 from 4:00 to 4:30 p.m. in the South Gallery, followed by an opening reception for the exhibition from 5:00 to 6:30 p.m.

Cornell Robinson employs a multifaceted artistic approach encompassing oil painting, printing, drawing, and assemblage to explore queer and peculiar revisionist histories. His process involves over-painting with veils of color, gesture, and sgraffito, resulting in a layered effect akin to a simultaneous self-invention and erasure, and culminating in a distinctly queer process of camouflage and abstraction. This exhibition, curated by Casey Mathern, director of the University Galleries, features new work and groups created over the last decade organized around the artist’s reminder that not everything is what it seems and his concurrent evolution across diverse media as he investigates seriality, material culture, and persona.

The primary source material for Cornell Robinson’s present work is a collection of sketchbooks maintained for 30 years that contain daily observational drawings, mainly done on the subway, and recently digitized by a student assistant. A selection of phrases and images were laid out and scanned, and now serve as a working vocabulary. Line drawings were transferred to silkscreen using Rapidograph acetate pens and realized by master printer Luther Davis at Powerhouse Arts Printshop in 2015. These original drawings are presented in the exhibition under Plexiglas for the viewer’s reference, as a visual footnote of sorts, to the works on display. Congregation of Wits was an important series of limited-edition prints completed in 2018 that brought these drawings, texts, and paint explorations together.

In Cornell Robinson’s ceramics, these images become underglaze decal transfers. In 2017 he created a series of grottoes that were shown at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, inspired by grottoes used for displaying religious statuary in the Catholic faith. These slip cast ceramic niches contain emptiness as opposed to a religious figure like the Virgin Mary, allowing the viewer to fill the space with their own imagined object of veneration. One example, Rebel Heart No. 2, employs an antique figural pressed glass bottle depicting George Washington that has been slumped under extreme heat into obscurity.

During the COVID lockdown, he turned out an impressive quantity of chawans, or ceremonial tea bowls, which reach a comical scale in My Cup Runneth Over. In his recent series Confabulation Fantabuloso he experimented with tin glaze and platter mold ceramics printed with photographic images. Transfer printed ceramics and crumpled paper combine in assemblages in his current body of work, Queer Pentimento. Silkscreen prints mounted to tin sheets are crumpled, then mounted to the wall or draped over a ceramic head, obscuring the already abstracted image of the artist’s friend and AIDS activist Zachary, rendered in a Ben Day dot pattern from a photograph.

Another source of imagery comes from police sting surveillance footage captured clandestinely in 1962 in a men’s room in Mansfield, Ohio, now in the public domain thanks to another artist, William E. Jones. The footage captured men engaging in sexual acts and was used to frame and arrest them on charges of sodomy. This material is layered with floral still lives in his Vanitas series. His Bicameral Mind diptych canvases are a reference to Julian Jaynes’ bicameral mind hypothesis drawn from myths and historical literature. Jaynes posited that up until around 3,000 years ago, humans did not have a concept of introspection and internal thoughts and believed external forces and polytheistic gods guided our choices. Remnants of this way of thinking show up in our understanding of mental health and spirituality.

The title of the present exhibition is taken from an anonymous bit of graffiti employed during the May 1968 student demonstrations in Paris, memorialized in glass by the artist through gestural gilt script. He experimented with glass enamel printing during a 2015 residency at UrbanGlass in Brooklyn, utilizing a 19th century technique to print silkscreen portraits with glass powder. The printed glass was then melted into hand rolled glass sheets, as in Marat Mahākāla Edition No. 4. That same year he turned to another unconventional medium for silkscreen prints in Burolandschaft, a plywood nod to the utopian postwar German office design movement that encouraged non-hierarchical mingling between employees at all levels of an organization using open plans without physical separation. Here each modular panel is printed with Cornell Robinson’s defiant scowl, establishing a protective barricade for the individual against conformity, which turns our accepted notions of the cubicle as a symbol of top-down control on its head.

When brought together, Cornell Robinson’s output creates a complete environment that the visitor can inhabit, not merely a collection of unrelated series. Each evolution brings him back to his source vocabulary, through which clever observations about arcane history give way to ecstatic celebrations of what lies just below the surface of convention: “My aim is to not simply challenge conventional narratives but to invite viewers into a contemplative space where personal histories, social narratives, and abstractions collide,” he says. “I believe that art can evoke curiosity, empathy, and emotional resonance, and it is within this intersection that my work finds its focus.”

Also on view is Touch Me: Feeling Fashion, which explores the connection between how fashion touches us—clothes on our bodies—and how we feel about it, both individually and socially. The exhibition, on view through May 3, is curated by Laura Di Summa, associate professor of philosophy, and Casey Mathern, director of the University Galleries.

This exhibition is supported in part by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. The William Paterson University Galleries are wheelchair-accessible. Large-print educational materials are available. For additional information, please call the William Paterson University Galleries at 973-720-2654.