An Artistic Evolution
Driven by growth and exploration, a Colorado artist creates genre-defying paintings
Portrait by Eleanor Williamson
Robert Spooner is not one for labels. In an industrial enclave of Denver, Colorado, the 61-year-old artist’s studio showcases a collection of oil paintings that don’t adhere to a single subject or process—from ethereal landscapes to historical figurative scenes to (most recently) abstract studies in color. “I’m always stretching myself and asking, ‘What is it that I’m capable of doing that I don’t know I’m capable of doing? What doors open up visually for me by pushing myself?’” he explains.
Spooner discovered his love for painting in the late ’90s, when he started taking classes at the Art Students League of Denver as an antidote to his career in the structured world of advertising design. Since then, his work has been featured in numerous galleries and exhibitions. Here, he talks about his ever-evolving style and technique:
“Orange Note,” from the Color Field Series.
I went to eight different elementary schools as a kid. My mom was married to a gentleman who was in the Air Force, so that was the cattle prod that moved us around. I never got a great education, but I always had an interest in art and doodling. I had an inherent ability of some magnitude toward art. I’m an extremely visual person; I solve problems visually. Because of the lack of skills in math, English and grammar, it magnified the art part.
Paintings from Spooner’s Historical collection, including “The Immigrants,” are based on photographs that illustrate American history. “Hard times made America,” he says.“I paint these scenes with great respect, trying to say, ‘Remember.’”
AT FIRST, A FOLLOWER
I’m really a self-taught artist even though I’m influenced by other artists. I used to reverse engineer. I’d paint Old Masters works to try to figure out exactly what they were thinking about. [I’d ask myself] how do I blend what I’ve learned from other people with the knowledge I’ve accumulated, and grow? Somewhere along the line, I stopped following other artists and started creating my own visual path.
“Morning Tide,” from Spooner’s Seascapes collection, was inspired by a road trip down California’s State Route 1. “I must have stopped 40 times along the way to photograph the beautiful coastline,” he says.
Spooner lives within a quarter-mile of a large equestrian center. “Yellow Pinto” is inspired by his weekly walks among the horses.
Exploration has always been one of the main drives for me. Instead of sticking to a technique or style of something I may have learned 10-15 years ago, it’s always about how can I make this better? How can I make this more exciting? It’s like a pendulum—I’ll do some traditional work, and then I’ll sway back over and do the contemporary work. By moving across this pendulum, it helps me to grow. My work is strengthened by it.
Works from Spooner’s Color Field Series require up to 20 layers of paint.
[My Color Field Series paintings are] created by putting massive amounts of paint on, scraping them across the panel and then scraping that part off. As I start to tear things off, I see other colors underneath it. I start to see shapes form, harmonies, balance and symmetry. Some of it happens by a freak accident. It’s a controlled process, and yet, there’s no control to it. It’s me watching the process and figuring out where to stop with a piece. I’m the tool that is standing before the painting as the painting completes itself.
“It’s All Over” is inspired by a 1939 photograph by Russell Lee. Lee asked the subject, “Where is your home?” to which the man replied, “It’s all over.”
I’m not trying to satisfy anyone else [with my art]. Because if you do, you’re then trying to think how someone else wants something; how someone else completes something. You’re thinking outside of your own head. For me, it’s all about the journey. I don’t have an objective to be in the Met or anything. I’m always trying to be true to myself as I grow—however the adventure for me may go as an artist.
See more of Robert Spooner's fine art.