The South End, According To Robinson
NEW WORKS BY LEON ROBINSON, Mills Gallery, Boston Center for the Arts, 549 Tremont St. through October 1. Gallery hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 12 noon - 4 p.m.
by Jeanne Belovitch
There is a short story about an artist who lives in an apartment overlooking Washington Square in Manhattan. From her window she paints vivid impressions of the teeming world below.
In real life, artist Leon Robinson brings us his perceptions of the South End. Much of what he sees is from his apartment on Warren Avenue---houses, doorways, shops, the elevated Orange Line, lights on empty streets, and a corner that no longer exists.
From his inner window, he has recorded some of the South End's visual history. Much of his work is representative of 1983, with a few paintings from 1980, and one titled Blue Snow, painted in 1978.
Blue Snow was Robinson's first painting and the one that triggered the inception of the South End series. It captures a row of buildings on Tremont Street that are laden with and comforted in freshly fallen snow from the memorable Blizzard of '78.
Only one painting in the series features people. When one comes upon the work, it is jarring to see people sitting around a table at the outdoor cafe in front of the Boston Center for the Arts. They are unexpected and almost unwelcome after viewing Robinson's previous paintings that are void of people. Although emptiness is a theme running throughout his work, the paintings convey warmth and strength through the use of color, form and light.
Robinson pushes the image beyond the detail to create a feeling of the city at night, in the morning or in the mind of the viewer. His broad strokes capture a world that is there at once. There is no hunting around for innuendos or nuances. His paintings are direct and honest. One must deal with them as a whole. Robinson's use of light is exceptionally defined and well-demonstrated in his night paintings.
His painting of Dover Station concentrates on the green tin-covered stairways flanking East Berkeley Street and the massive green structure that ominously sits over the intersection below, to which the stairs connect.
The impact of the color green and the heaviness fo the form gives the feeling that one is looking at a prison, hardly a means for movement.
In another work Robinson captures a lost corner at Berkeley and Tremont Streets across from the Police Station on Warren Avenue. Now a park, the little corner was once a boxing gym, a tailor's shop and a bailiff's office.
Robinson paints in oil and encaustic, a wax-based paint mixed with dry pigment and a small amount of turpentine. It is an ancient medium for painting used by the Greeks as early as the third century. Robinson is believed to be the first artist to use encaustics in landscape paintings.
Nineteen of Robinson's paintings are on exhibit at the Mills. Five are unrelated to the South End series.
Robinson has lived n the South End for many years. He holds a bachelors degree in Fine Arts from Boston University. His works have been exhibited at Boston University; the 46th Jordan Marsh Exhibition; the Berkshire Annual Show; the Afro-American Exhibition at Boston City Hall, the Fourth Annual Invitation Exhibition at UMass/Boston; and the Artists Under 36 Exhibition at Northeasten University.
Source: South End News, Boston, MA; 1984