I spent my childhood in California and Arizona, in the US, and in Galway, Ireland. My father was a professor of 18th century Irish drama, so we spent much time there while he performed research.
As a doctoral student in postcolonial literatures and theory. I received a doctorate in comparative cultural and literary studies, after a Master’s degree in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory. Both focused on Irish literature and film, and Caribbean, Chicano, Latino, African American, and Native American literatures.
I first became interested in art as a graduate student. I desperately wanted to be a painter, but knew that I was not as educated as I needed to be. My artist friends were all amazingly illiterate, so I went to study literary theory (philosophy, essentially). I painted while getting my degrees, and then became a cultural critic to pay for the painting. I painted every night off. And now have almost 2,000 paintings.
I continued to pursue my interest in painting, so I became fluent in art theory and history, and began to write art critique. While teaching literature and film at Memphis College of Art, I served on numerous review committees and portfolio boards. I founded the Memphis Art Brigade in 2008 (a street art group still in operation).
I’m not sure that I can comment on the artistic lifestyle, since mine has been a constant struggle to teach and make at the same time. John Sloan once said that he thought that he was a great painter, he just wasn’t so good at paying rent, and that could probably sum up those struggles. More to the point, teaching was the key to resistance—and my art has always been about the oppressed and their resistance—so education was a necessary component. My entire project has been to create critical consciousness in viewers, students, fellow artists, colleagues. So I do history painting that helps collective memory and weaves viewers into the history of ideas.
I paint every day, or I sketch, at least. The pandemic has only made me make more, in light of people’s pain and struggles. Painting knocks holes in the darkness, as Joe Jones once said.
I have always been relatively poor, so my favorite place to paint is my home studio, wherever that is. I paint anywhere that I can—but painting a mural on the street is the best for community engagement. Nothing like painting with a bunch of kids watching you. That’s how I learned to paint—watching Chicano/a muralists paint walls in Arizona and Irish muralists in Galway. I merely combined the two.
And those would be my biggest inspirations. But I am also inspired by Mexican art, WPA art, German Expressionism (Beckmann, particularly), African American painters like Charles White and Jacob Lawrence, and generally any resistance painters in the Global South. I love Guston, Guttuso, and Wifredo Lam. But I am most inspired by the Irish modernists: Jellett, Swanzy, Le Brocquy, Hone, Norah McGuinness, Nano Reid, etc. Their work in modified cubism has created my mature style. Especially Jellett and LeBrocquy.
I would love to paint in Ireland, in Waterford or Kilkenny, where my family originated. I would spend every last cent to paint with contemporary Irish painters while living in Ireland. Teaching and painting in Ireland is my ultimate dream, and I would love to just contribute one painting to the history of Irish art and postcolonial art in Ireland. Unfortunately, the closest I’ve been able to get is Maine! But I look out across the ocean each day as I paint…and I get this weird feeling in my navel. My gallery, Carrickahowley Gallery, is designed to bring the Irish artists to me and to ME (Maine), since I cannot get to them. And to quiet that weird feeling a bit.
To view our wonderful collection of available art by Robin Savage click here