Collector Rick Robinson - Artvoices - July 2012

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Rick Robinson’s Worthy Re-collections

Before the words “hipster,” “artwalk,”and “Shephard Fairey” peppered the average conversation about the downtown arts community, artist and collector Rick Robinson and a tight knit crew of struggling artists, gallerists and haphazard dilettantes formed the core of a thriving arts district scene. Through a mire of chaos and hedonism, creativity and vision prevailed.

Back in the late nineties and early 2000s the downtown arts district contained a cluster of galleries and independent venues that helped lay the foundations of an edgy arts community that has since evolved into a defining aspect of the city’s cultural identity.

Now CEO at advertising firm McDonald Media and with a weighty art collection he’s intent on exhibiting in the near future, Robinson fondly reflects on his early downtown days creating and collecting art. He also offers some handy insights into what it takes to collect and why he indulges this bizarre and possibly destructive form of retail therapy.

“I have I have about sixty pieces at my office and another sixty at home, I also have some with friends and family in Sacramento. Once a month I have to assess how much new work I can afford to get framed on my visit to my framer.”

Rather than being driven by business savvy and investment value, Robinson sees his collecting as an emotional thing, a form of metaphor documenting his last twenty years living in downtown LA, “ Ive been living and working in downtown and the collection is a CSI type document of my life here. The work means a great deal to me emotionally, if it doesn’t then I don’t buy it. I never looked at collecting art as an exercise in investing, it really is more than that.”

Robinson says he also sees collecting as a way of giving back to the local arts community. “As an artist myself I know the kick a new artist gets from a sale. It’s a form of validation and Im glad to lift an artists spirits by buying his work. I bought some work by Man One who runs Crew West Gallery and it was great to see the effect it had on him.”

He adds, “A collection like a life has momentum. My collection stems from ground zero at the downtown arts district. Its become part of me, part of my soul. I feel that this art really belongs to the community and not just me. There are a range of artists who left their heart on the corner of third and Traction.”

Under the glare of neon and smell of piss Robinson fondly recalls his wild and reckless days downtown in the late 90s and early 2000s. He, like this writer, were lucky enough to experience the likes of the legendary Bedlam Speakeasy gallery, run by rep-gallerist Jim Fittipaldi.

In its heyday his Bedlam Studio/ speakeasy, located opposite the Greyhound bus station on 6th street in downtown LA would kick off at midnight on a Wednesday. There a loyal core of regulars would debate art into the wee hours, while enjoying pool, poker and well stocked bar.

Robinson reflects, “a lot of my art was purchased via Bedlam and Jim. It was an event held at his private studio every second Wednesday. You would arrive and give a password for entry. My staff at the ad agency always new Thursdays would be easy as I would have come straight from there after a quick visit home for a shower and change of clothes.”

“That era was like being privy to some exclusive, secret life. Kind of like being in New York’s East Village in the early 1980s. It really was about the art though, those days were as fun as they were productive. “ Robinson says.

Robinson also recalls a host of other downtown venues that paved the way for the current scene. “There were numerous shows at many private spaces downtown. Spaces like Zero One, Deep River and Art Murmur, and pop-up galleries run by downtowners Lily Mueller and Dale Youngman were always showing new and exciting art.”

Now sober for over a year, Robinson admits to many kneejerk art purchases, but ultimately he has no regrets . “There were many times when I thought of stopping the collection thing, though I still proceeded anyway, despite having to eat potatoes for the next two weeks after yet another purchase.I think the most important focus was to immerse myself in the neighborhood and just prove that I was there. The art serves as a kind of ticket stub of my experiences.”

Ultimately Robinson is more passionate about art than he is money.” I turn fifty this year and I have a collection that spans the last 20 years, much of the collection references people, venues and experiences of life downtown.”

It’s a little disappointing that fine art is now an asset for hedge fund managers , it seems more focused on distribution channels. I pick up Art Forum and it reads like The Wall Street Journal.”

“I make a decent living though when I buy art its never about boasting as a collector. I really feel the need to support the galleries and artists in the community and I also like a lot of the art, who wants to look at their own work repeatedly after all?

Still, despite the current adverse economy, Ric also sees collecting as accessible to all, not necessarily synonymous with six figure elite earners. “Art is available to people here and its not that expensive. For the price of a big expensive dinner, a long weekend away or a music festival, they can afford to buy a piece of art.”

In tune with his positivity towards giving back to the artists of his community, part of Robinsons agenda sees a true spirit of philanthropy. He has key involvement in Artshare LA’s gallery and operations.
Artshare is a community based arts educational body that’s is helping to transform the lives of underprivileged Los Angeles youth. Located in the Arts District it offers both an educational arts facility for the disadvantaged and and a much needed venue for local and emerging artists to create, exhibit and perform their work.
Art Share programs are conducted from a renovated 2-story 30,000 square foot facility. On the lower floor is a working visual and ceramic arts studio with kiln; art exhibition gallery; and performance/dance/theatre space; all of which accommodate (450) persons at any one time.
Of his involvement, Robinson says he seese art shining in the face of adversity. Art and artists always find a way and people will create and exhibit their art anyway they can. They will inconvenience life so they can show their art.”

So who comprises the art collection of Rick Robinson ? His portfolio treads like a who’s who of downtown LA artists. There’s Richard Ankrom, Skip Arnold, Robbie Conal, Richard Ankrom, Richard Godfrey, Emmeric Conrad, and various graf artists from Crew West Gallery. There’s also an Ansel Adams photograph, an early Shep Fairey (pre Obama Hope poster) and even a framed rough for a Banksy mural Robinson’s been offered $5000 for.

Asked about his feelings towards the term “outsider art,” a term that is often used to describe the art of downtown Los Angeles, Robinson frowns. ‘I don’t like the description and I don’t know whether it really applies to the art I collect or create. Though, the art certainly isn’t insider. Its more a reaction against the art establishment and not driven by the concept of asset accumulation.”

Closing with some advice to those new to collecting art, Robinson reflects, “If you go to galleries and rely on them as the focus of your social life, then you should support the venues and artists by buying art . Collecting is like staking a claim in your local community.”

But what to buy ? “I have so much art on my walls it sometimes just becomes wallpaper, though every so often a piece will catch my eye and spark a memory. When I buy a piece I adheres to one single rule, if it made me stop and look twice than it has what it takes. That’s the yardstick to seal the deal - and that could really happen in just five minutes.”


Written by Craig Stephens

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