Salted not Sugared at Ben Shahn Center

In Dialogue
A round yellow and black object with a red dot on it Description automatically generated
Andrew Cornell Robinson, glazed porcelain, with underglaze silkscreen print decal transfer, 16 x 16 x 3 inches. Photographer Martin Meyers, 2024

Andrew Cornell Robinson, the 2023 grand prize winner of the William Patterson University Galleries’ national juried printmaking exhibition, Ink, Press, Repeat, presents a decade of exploration in his exhibition, Salted Not Sugared. This retrospective, the first extensive survey of his interdisciplinary art, is showcased at the Ben Shahn Center for the Visual Arts, curated by Casey Mathern. His work, spanning oil painting, printing, drawing, and assemblage, engages with queer and peculiar revisionist histories, inviting viewers into a reflective dialogue where personal histories, social narratives, and abstract forms converge.

Drawing is central to Robinson’s artistic inquiry, linking his endeavors in ceramics, prints, and paintings. His intuitive approach to materials blends art, design, and craft with modern technologies and narrative strategies, enabling a reimagining of memory through images and artifacts. This process crafts revisionist histories that touch on themes of mistranslation and representation, highlighting Robinson’s engagement with historical memory through a diverse artistic lens.

Curator Casey Mathern’s notes emphasize Robinson’s multidisciplinary practice as a profound investigation into how identities intersect with artifacts, images, and ideologies. Robinson’s work, rooted in craft thinking and deconstructive storytelling, employs fragmentation and the uncanny juxtaposition of forms to inquire—how history and culture influence the formation of meaning.

Robinson’s artist statement, in the form of a poem in *Polari, serves as the wall text in the exhibition:


In the swish of my artistic sway,

Fabulist tales in hues array.

Queer glances in shadows play,

Abstracted Nancies, flirtations astray.

With brush and naff, a nifty dance,

Self-invention twirls, erasure’s trance.

Layers weave, portraits on the chance,

Obscured, transformed, the setting sun’s romance.

A recent romp under a frowning gaze,

Seductive whispers, secretive phrase.

Cottage lovers tango in the clandestine maze,

Flowery dreams lost in a fleeting haze.

Graffiti marks, a crafty cloak,

Obscure the essence, a clever stroke.

In fractured hues, a narrative bespoke,

Mincers’ shadow winks through layers awoke.

Studio haven, a painter’s trance,

Queer histories in rhythmic dance.

Layering, repetition, a visual chance,

Sketches veiled in hues, a nuanced advance.

From shadows hidden in cascading streams,

A queer abstraction, where memory teems.

In hushed voices, where the story gleams,

Our layers unveil, like spectral dreams.

* Polari is a historic form of British slang, originating in the 19th and 20th centuries. It is predominantly used within English speaking gay subcultures as a secret language characterized by a playful, “camp” and eclectic vocabulary. The vocabulary of Polari is diverse, drawing from a range of sources, including English, Romani, Italian, Yiddish, and rhyming slang. For example: Omipalone = homosexual; Zhoosh = exciting, attractive, etc.

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Andrew Cornell Robinson, Salted Not Sugared installation at the Ben Shahn Center for the Visual Arts at William Patterson University. Photographer Joe Jagos, 2024

Tell us about your thought process for the body of work in this show.

My tastes run small “c” catholic, in that what appeals to me is eclectic in style, media, and meaning. I suppose that comes from my upbringing in an Episcopalian and Roman Catholic family parented by a feminist, second-generation abstract expressionist painting mother and a Shakespearean acting, bluegrass loving, banjo picking father whose sentiments were somewhat conservative despite their interest in Noam Chomsky, liberation theology and the civil rights movement. I think my being a gay man who came of age at the height of the AIDS epidemic has informed my impulse to view rigid ideas with a jaundiced eye. I think that is probably why craft sensibilities, clay in particular, appealed to me. It was a media and a method “craft” that, for a long time, was not really taken seriously by the larger art world. Women were my early mentors, and feminist and queer perspectives on the world, in particular the art world, inflected much of my work and attitude with an irreverent sense of humor and a broad embrace of materials and ways of making.

I make art intuitively employing a diversity of materials (paint, porcelain, prints, plastics, tin, wood, etc.) and a maximalist visual vocabulary encompassing everything from modern dance and mid-century agitprop to expressionist portraits and punk-rock zines, all of which inform themes in my work such as love and loss, history and distortion, sexuality, and social taboo. At a certain point, I accept that I can’t control the message, and so my work asks viewers to participate in establishing meaning. A lot gets lost in translation. That is intentional. I think it’s a more honest reflection of our contemporary dis-aggregation and social distortion today. Art can’t fix that. Art can, however, provide a space to reflect and pause, laugh and cry, and perhaps breathe a little easier momentarily. And in my case, make space for the queer and peculiar.

The show includes different series of work made in various media and over a substantial time period. How was the work selected?

This show, Salted Not Sugared, is a collection of different but related bodies of work created over the past decade. Printmaking on various substrates, from paper to porcelain, glass, and metal, are one of the commonalities across the works in this exhibition. Curated by Casey Mathern, who identified multiple trains of thought that hold these works together across media and form. A peculiar conversation among the works in this show veers from formal systems like grids to socio-political implications like cultural erasure. Drawing plays a foundational role in this exhibition and begins with a large-scale installation of forty prints filled with one thousand drawings culled from thirty years of daily drawings. Adjacent to this is a worktable filled with a collage of sketches and visual detritus taken from my studio pin-up wall, where I gather ideas in progress.

Visual erasure is a subtext in much of my work. This idea comes out of my personal experiences as a gay man growing up in the ennui of 1980s suburban New Jersey, where in my youth, I was sent to gay conversion therapy (it doesn’t work). After which I escaped into my life in New York City. Since then, my days have been recorded through a daily drawing practice, sketching friends and strangers on subway rides and walking city streets, a habit I continue to this day. This archive of thirty years of doodles and drawings has become a rich source of imagery and ideas that I have been composing into a series of paintings and prints on paper and porcelain.

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Andrew Cornell Robinson, Salted Not Sugared installation at the Ben Shahn Center for the Visual Arts at William Patterson University. Photographer Joe Jagos, 2024

The grid is a recurrent form . What draws you there?

The grid came up again when I created a series of ceramic grottos with clay and glass slumped into concave beehive forms that hang on the wall in repetition. These altar-like pieces titled Rebellious Hearts were first exhibited in an exhibition titled Wishful Thinking at Saint Joseph’s, a Jesuit university in Philadelphia. It was a reflection on my own experience growing up with a lot of religion, and it was also a vehicle for me to reflect upon a 12th-century text about prayer and meditation titled The Cloud of Unknowing.

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Andrew Cornell Robinson, Rebellious Hearts Nos. 3, 5, 7, 8 16, 20, 2016, ceramic, glass, metal, plastic, each 11 x 10 x 5 inches, variable dimensions of this installation. Photographer Joe Jagos, 2024
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Andrew Cornell Robinson, Rebellious Heart 7 (beat), 2016, glazed ceramic, underglaze, and stains, metal, enamel, plastic, 12 x 10 x 8.25 inches

The grid makes another appearance in a large series of double-sided silkscreen prints titled A Congregation of Wits, in which I have culled one thousand drawings and typographic phrases into a modular grid that greets you when you enter the gallery. Each of the prints is framed in forty acrylic frames on stainless steel ledges. These prints can be flipped and rearranged in any number of configurations. The project began as an investigation into drawing and its role in my work. It unfolded into a multi-year project that included drawings, ceramics, animations, and prints.

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Andrew Cornell Robinson, A Congregation of Wits, 2018, a collection of forty silkscreen prints, acrylic frames, brushed stainless steel ledges, installation, 100 x 144 x 4 inches. Photographer Joe Jagos, 2024

Please guide us through the show. What will we see as we enter?

As you enter the gallery, the central work that greets you is the forty-print panel work titled A Congregation of Wits. To the left is the cubical grid structure, Bürolandschaft. To share examples of how I use images and ideas to generate forms in my work, you can walk to the right, where there is a worktable on which some of the drawings, studies, sketchbook pages, and notes that are normally pinned to my studio wall are presented here under sheets of acrylic.

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Drawing table, installation that includes visual materials taken from the artist’s studio wall. This includes a collection of sketchbook drawings, acetate drawings and typographic studies, photographs, prints, oil pastel, and acrylic studies, 2024, variable dimensions

Tell us about Bürolandschaft.

This exhibition brings together several bodies of work that began as drawings. This includes the earliest work from 2014, titled Bürolandschaft. A gridded wooden panel partition wall with repeating silkscreen prints of my grimacing face. The title and form are based on a post-war, anti-fascist German design concept that loosely translates to “office landscaping.” The concept was meant to liberate the office working culture by doing away with walls and offices and opening the space into irregular modules for collaboration and conversation. In practice, this system evolved into what we know today as the office cubicle, or as Douglas Coupland described in his book Generation X, corporate “veal fattening pens”. Those architectural abominations where I spent many years working to pay off that pesky student loan and save up some money to make art at night. I was interested in the utopian ideals at play in a design system that was meant to loosen control and encourage democratic ideals and then to see it turned into a system of control, a panopticon, and a cheap way to manage workers. The project was one of the first in which I used the grid as an essential system to organize images and objects.

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Andrew Cornell Robinson, Bürolandschaft, 2014, silkscreen print, ink, polyurethane, glue, birch and wood, 16 x 16 inches (each panel), installation of multiple panels approximately 70 x 70 x 70 inches variable.

In Salted Not Sugared, themes of reverence and absence resonate throughout my works, such as Rebellious Hearts, where vigorous gestural figurations collapse into abstracted interiors of slumped glass and clay, and Pentimento 37 (Bartholomew), featuring fragmented forms that evoke Michelangelo’s non-finito sculptures, are hung on the wall. A plaster skin is suspended amidst a half-tone distortion of a torso printed on cotton and mounted to a substrate of crushed metal, an obfuscation of the image into the form. The form emerges and is camouflaged, a sort of invisibility cloak that doesn’t work.

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Pentimento 28, 2022, Andrew Cornell Robinson, Unglazed porcelain, underglaze transfer prints, silkscreen on paper mounted to tin, 12 x 18 x 6 inches. Photographer Joe Jagos, 2024

Let’s look closer at some other print series in the show. Can you tell us about the genesis, idea, and process?

I am keenly interested in the fragmentary nature of history, identity, and visual vocabularies. Confabulations (historical revisions) and Fantabulosas (fantastic+fabulous creatures) is a new project in which I construct portraits that symbolize the struggles and resilience of marginalized communities, with a specific focus on the LGBTQ+ community to which I am a member.

My work’s fractured figurative abstractions and layers of obliteration create a pentimento in which the erased or obfuscated imagery emerges through its absence. I imagine it like a black hole; we can’t see it, but we know it’s there by its impact on those things within its orbit. Everything is connected, you see. Even the things that are out of sight. Utilizing strategies such as layering, repetition, and processes encompassing painting, printing, drawing, and assemblage, I create obscured portraits resulting in these queer abstractions.

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Andrew Cornell Robinson, Confabulation Fantabulosa No. 28 (Mateo), 2023
Glazed porcelain, with underglaze silkscreen print decal transfer, 1/1, 10 x 8 x 1 inches
Several pieces of art on a white surface Description automatically generated
Andrew Cornell Robinson, Confabulation Fantabulosa Nos. 2, 3, 4, 13, 23, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, silkscreen printed decal transfer on glazed ceramic, plastic, variable dimensions. Photographer Joe Jagos, 2024

Recently, I incorporated stills from police surveillance footage used in a 1960s sting operation to arrest gay men, layering them with vanitas still-lives symbolizing the futility of pleasure. This series serves as a poignant commentary on erasure and the politics of representation. Rooted in the concept of ‘erasure,’ and inspired by the graffitied walls of rest stop bathroom stalls and New York City walls, hidden images beneath overpainted canvases. Stickered and marked-up surfaces of public spaces resonate with me. Through layers of glaze, ink, and painted portraits, obscured figures emerge, locked in a timeless gaze, embodying themes of isolation, and desire.

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Andrew Cornell Robinson, Confabulation Fantabulosa No. 25 (Crush), 2023, glazed porcelain, with underglaze silkscreen print decal transfer, 1/1, 15 x 11 x 3 inches. Photographer Joe Jagos, 2024

What are you working on in your studio these days?

Well, I recently moved out of my Bushwick, Brooklyn studio of twenty years. Rising commercial rents made it necessary for me to move much of my work into storage and regroup. At the moment, I am working on a series of collages, and I am continuing to work on a series of paintings exploring a split composition, sort of a bicameral mindscape in which the pictorial plane is divided into two, one side begins with a painting of a person, place or thing, and then it is overpainted, printed, scratched out, layered over, essentially obliterated. The other side is painted over and over with veils of color or wrapped with prints on paper or tin and crumpled over the canvas. In the studio, I let these things unwind and relax into themselves. Like much of the ceramic assemblages and layered prints in the exhibition, this body of paintings is an opportunity to dive deeply into queer abstraction through layering and erasure of underlying images.

A close-up of a painting

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Andrew Cornell Robinson, Bicameral Mind IX (The Hand That Gives And Takes) 2023, Oil on canvas, diptych, 40 x 64 inches

Andrew Cornell Robinson: Salted Not Sugared
February 5–March 22, 2024
Ben Shahn Center for the Visual Arts
William Paterson University, 300 Pompton Road, Wayne, NJ 07470 Directions to the gallery

About the artist: Andrew Cornell Robinson, born in Camden, NJ in 1968, crafts vibrant assemblages — paintings, prints, and ceramics — evoking memory. He draws across multiple substrates with layers of color, texture, and form. Drawing from his upbringing on the outskirts of NYC and his experiences on his family’s farm along the Delaware River, Robinson’s work explores the emotional interplay between place and identity, erasure, and presence. Based in NYC and a faculty member at Parsons, Robinson holds a BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art and an MFA from the School of Visual Arts. He was a participating artist in Debtfair, a project in the Whitney Biennial. His work has been showcased in exhibitions at institutions like the U.K. Craft Council, and the Ross Art Museum. He was an artist in residence at Gutenberg Arts, Edward F. Albee Foundation, Agastya Foundation, and he was awarded a Queens Arts Council grant.