We had the good fortune of connecting with Robin Hextrum and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Robin, alright, let’s jump in with a deep one – what’s you’re definition for success?
For me, success means that I find fulfillment in my work and that I enjoy a typical day. I found joy in making art ever since I was a small child. I decided to become an artist when I was in college. When I first told people I wanted to be an artist, many people looked at me as if I had said I wanted to be a unicorn. In other words, what an eccentric and impossible fantasy. I realized early on that I would not get external validation for my artistic pursuits. I had to listen to myself and seek out internal validation. I had to find my own definition of success that relied upon things I could control. I could never fully control what others thought about my work, or what shows or galleries I got into, but I could control how I approached my art and my life. I paid close attention to my mentors who seemed the most satisfied and most fulfilled with their lives. I realized that success was not in prestige or wealth, but rather in the quality of life that one gets to lead. Whenever I feel status anxiety or feelings of inadequacy, I ask myself two questions: Am I making artwork that I am proud of? and Is my average day a good day? I feel successful when the answer to both of these questions is yes. I am fortunate to be able to call myself a painter and an art professor. I get to spend my typical days teaching students about subjects I feel passionate about and painting in my studio. I am also thankful to be able to sell my artwork through Abend Gallery, which has wonderful owners who encourage my creative freedom. Outside of being an artist, I strive to have a balanced life. Yes, art is my passion, but it is a marathon not a sprint. My relationships are important to me, and I enjoy taking the time to explore other hobbies like hiking, yoga, skiing, and drinking good craft beer with friends. I feel successful when I realize that a typical Tuesday or Wednesday is a good day for me. To me, success is not about living for the weekend, or waiting for satisfaction during a vacation, but rather about finding fulfillment and joy in the everyday lived experience.
Please tell us more about your art. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
I grew up in a small coastal town called Stinson Beach in Northern California where I developed a passion for the natural environment. That still comes out in my work with its focus on plants, animals, and natural settings. I spent many days hiking up mountains, surfing, and kayaking. It is easy to fall in love with nature in Stinson. Between ticks, mountain lions, and great white sharks, you also learn that nature can quite literally bite you back. You develop a fearful respect for nature and all of its force. I have been some form of vegetarian or vegan for 10 years. Animal rights are quite important to me, so it is no surprise that I often paint animals and find them very sympathetic subjects. When I was in high school I took my first drawing classes at a community college and loved it. I then went on to USC for undergrad. I ran around doing just about everything I could in college. I was on the women’s rowing team for all four years and served as team captain. I believe my time as a division one athlete has helped me become an artist. Being an athlete allows you to understand how to pace yourself and how to self-discipline. These traits turn out to be crucial for an art career. I also completed a double major in Fine Art and Neuroscience, and even joined the marching band for one semester. I love learning about other disciplines and topics. I am a life-long learner at heart. The art program at USC was very heavy on art history, concept, and theory. I received a great conceptual education, but found that I still had a lot more to learn about painting after I graduated. I knew how to talk about my work, but I felt inadequate in terms of my skill and ability. After I finished my undergraduate studies, I went on to complete an MFA in painting and an MA in Modern and Contemporary Art History. I chose to study at Laguna College of Art and Design for my MFA 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 improved my technical abilities by leaps and bounds. I continued to teach at LCAD for the next few years, but had a difficult time finding full time work. I felt myself getting stuck in low wage part time work in the arts and really wanted a full time professorship. I chose to get an additional degree in Modern and Contemporary Art History at UC Riverside because I had begun teaching lecture courses in addition to studio courses, and I wanted to stand out on the job market. I ran around teaching, taking graduate courses, and praying it would all lead to a full time job. Thought it was stressful, my MA in Art History was a wonderful education. I learned so much about how to think and write. I worked with wonderful and dedicated faculty. After I graduated from this program, I finally landed a teaching position at Regis University. I am now serving my fourth year as the full time drawing faculty at Regis University. I love everything about living in Denver. I feel so lucky to have landed a teaching position here and feel quite confident that this is where I am meant to be. It was not easy to get to where I am today. I have had very harsh set-backs, defeats, and critiques. One professor once told me that my paintings were so bad they made her concerned about the school’s painting program. Another professor wandered around our classroom telling all of us we were so terrible at drawing that he would never hire any of us. During an interview at a graduate program one faculty member said my work was boring and unoriginal. My first round of 40 teaching applications did not merit a single interview let alone a job. I also had a number of bad experiences with gallery owners brushing me off or showing outright hostility. Every time someone dismissed me or told me I would never make it, I felt even more determined to double down and push through. After spending four years as a D1 athlete, I have known I have a deep internal well of discipline and motivation that I can use to hone in on a goal. When people misjudge me, I just tell myself they do not know me. If they knew me, they would understand that I have a formidable level of drive and determination. I have certainly had doubts and periods of deep frustration with pursuing my current career, but I told myself I had to try my best and do everything I could before following another path. Whenever I hit a roadblock I knew there was more I could do and more I could try to get to the next level. I also mentally committed to always have painting as a part of my life. If this meant that I would have to have a non-artistic day job eventually that was fine, so long as I took time to paint. My current paintings combine my conceptual education from USC, my technical education from LCAD, and my love for nature with my Art Historical background from UC Riverside. Drawing heavily from Dutch still life masterpieces, many works embody a contemporary version of the vanitas theme, which is a reminder of our mortality. Flowers symbolize beauty and the transience of human life within the vanitas genre. Their short lived beauty reminds us of our brief existence on this planet. These works take the extravagance of the 17th century still life to an extreme by enlarging the scale and adding bold and vibrant colors. A flood of flowers overtakes the viewer. While the original intent of vanitas works was to push viewers to a more strict and pious path, these works ask viewers to consider the mortality of our planet. They show nature growing and mutating to adapt to an ever shifting climate and environment. On a formal level, my paintings explore the dividing lines between representation and abstraction. While still privileging representation, a single work includes various degrees of resolution and construction of illusionistic space. Each work explores the tension between natural and constructed worlds in its own way. Many paintings contrast organic elements with geometric structures to symbolize this conflict. Having spent many years in academia, I am well aware of the rabbit hole it can represent and how esoteric some contemporary art can become. I want my work to resonate on multiple levels. I strive to make beautiful paintings that appeal to those who are not “in the know” so to speak about contemporary art. And, I also want these paintings to hold something complex and engaging for those who do 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. Thought 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.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I would start out by taking them to the Botanic Gardens. I love wandering around those gardens and enjoying the scenery. I’d also swing by the Denver Art Museum. That space never fails to impress me with its traditional and contemporary exhibitions. We would then go out to eat at all of my favorite vegan restaurants: City O’ City, Watercourse, and SoRadish. I also love Blue Sushi. I’d make them try the Cowgirl roll. It’s a vegan sushi roll that tastes like a cheeseburger. Amazing! We would wander around Broadway to checkout antique stores and get some vegan donuts at VooDoo donuts. And, we would go dance the night away at Tracks and Charlie’s.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I’d like to give a shoutout to my first drawing instructor Stan Johnson. She lived across the street from me when I was twelve years old and introduced me to the wonderful world of drawing. And, to Peter Zokosky. Peter is one of the kinder and happier artists that I have had the privilege to have as a mentor. He shows us all a way of building a fulfilling life around art. And, Michael Messner. He is an incredibly supportive mentor and shares such warmth and generosity with his mentees. He never fails to show us all what it means to be a great professor.
Other: Abend Gallery Website Link: https://abendgallery.com/artist/robin-hextrum
Julio Labra for the photo of me working in the studio Wes Magyar for the Photos of my artwork