Robyn Ross has a ‘thing’ about eyes, and paints them in all their intensity and beauty. In her current exhibition The Female Gaze, she plays with the way the masculine and feminine are categorised in life and depicted in art.
Her three works exploit the power of ‘the gaze’, both upon – and emanating from – her subjects, both male and female.
While adept across a number of artistic styles and mediums, Robyn loves portraiture. Her celebrity portraits include Russell Crowe, Sir Tim Rice, Bette Midler, Gordon Ramsay and Harry Connick Jr.
I caught up with Robyn in early September to ask her about ‘those eyes’ and just why she paints…
She recalls being inspired by one of her teachers at the age of 14. Laughing, she adds, “it was the only thing I won awards for in high school. I was always drawing faces; painting faces.”
“And I’ve just always been attracted by eyes. I think they tell so much about someone. When I’m working with my subject, I ask them not to smile because that makes their eyes squint. Your eyes can say more with a thought than a smile.”
Asked to describe her own work and what inspires her, the immediate response is “faces, colours and atmosphere – an atmosphere in a room of people, where there’s good tension, excitement or apprehension.”
“I want to engage the viewer. To do that, I love to have an extra layer for people to see. I seek to find an intensity, to show people how I see my subject, and the eyes are always the most expressive part of someone’s face.”
“That’s why I’m attracted to portrait painting. I like to meet people to get a sense of their personality. That’s not something you can get from a photo. I need to feel their essence.”
Talking specifically about the images in The Female Gaze, the conversation again returns to eyes. “In this series, the whole idea is the focus of the eyes,” Robyn explains. “The eyes tell you that it’s a face, but then I’ve played with the way the faces and the personalities are perceived, based on their sex.”
During our interview, Robyn reveals she’s inspired by Gustav Klimt. Her art practice is “very much about creating a mixture of both the real and unreal.” In this case, “unrealistic shapes around realistic faces.”
“I take an original idea, but the idea evolves as the painting progresses. Here, I’m challenging and augmenting traditional beliefs of masculine and feminine stereotypes.”
Past President of Portrait Artists Australia, Robyn has been Arts Ambassador for The Sir David Martin Foundation since 2012. Her international exhibitions include the Australian Embassy Washington, Invited Guest Artist at Biennale Izmir Turkey, Florence Biennale, Goethe Institute Germany and ART Monaco 2014.