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Agnes Robertson

Agnes Robertson

(1911- 2001)
American
Born: East Aurora, N.Y., U.S.

In 1977, Buffalo Evening News art critic Hal Crowther wrote, “I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion … that an art historian of the future will go poking through Western New York’s cultural relics of the Seventies and declare that our most important painter was Agnes Robertson.”  [1]

Robertson’s surreal, dreamlike paintings of strange-looking people, human-animal hybrids, characters from mythology, and other fanciful creations are instantly recognizable as her work. Often mistaken as childlike or naïve, they frequently explore dark subjects, albeit with characteristic humor.

Born and based for her entire life in East Aurora, N.Y., Robertson did not begin painting until she was 48 years old. Little is known about her private life. Starting in 1959 she spent nine summers in Woodstock, N.Y., taking art classes sponsored by the New York Art Students’ League under the direction of painter Arnold Blanch, whom she saw as a kindred spirit. Blanch himself described her work in a 1966 essay in a Woodstock newspaper:

“[Her paintings] are of our time in that they reflect by symbol and fantasy the irrationalities and fallacies of mankind. They are of people … who are animals and animals who are people. They are houses with black windows inhabited by the silent echoes of nothingness. A portrait of a man and woman hanging by their hands on the limb of a tree; man and horses with gnashing teeth; a buffalo with the head of a man; a woman with no body and birds’ feet; a staring cow and a large rooster frightening a man.” [2]

Writer Brenda Preisner provides further insight into the artist’s technique:

“Robertson’s approach is not strictly representational but expressionistic as well. Her creatures are roughly outlined, floated on backgrounds of layered color. Black predominates and is used to define and draw absolute attention to the subject. But milky whites, deep greens and vibrant oranges add brightness, preventing the work from being too somber. Her light is obscure like that of a clouded dream.” [3]

While Robertson did not consciously align herself with earlier artists or schools, she did cite painters Georges Rouault and Marc Chagall as inspirations. [4]

Robertson’s work has been seen in group and solo shows and posthumous retrospectives at venues including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Burchfield-Penney Art Center, and More-Rubin Gallery (Buffalo, N.Y.); Meibohm Fine Arts (East Aurora, N.Y.); the Kenan Center (Lockport, N.Y.); Artpark (Lewiston, N.Y.); Marine Midland Annuals (Niagara Falls, N.Y.); Chautauqua Art Association Gallery (Chautauqua, N.Y.); Folger Shakespeare Library Gallery (Washington, D.C.); galleries in New Jersey and Florida; Germany; and a "Sister City" exhibition in Kanazawa, Japan.

For more information on Agnes Robertson, visit http://www.agnesrobertson.com.

[1] Hal Crowther, “Agnes Robertson at Daemen,” Buffalo Evening News, 10/7/1977.

[2] Arnold Blanch, “The Fabulous World of Agnes Robertson,” Ulster County Townsman, 6/1966.

[3] Brenda Preisner, “Painter Finds Whimsy in ‘Things That Go Bump,’” Buffalo Evening News, 4/17/1978.

[4] Avra Schechter, “Gallery Without Walls,Buffalo New Times, 11/11/1973.