Sometimes describing one’s own art can be difficult. Traditional forms of art may easily lend themselves to being understood based on history, but contemporary folk art — like that made by Robin Kent — defies description. Throughout her career, Kent has consistently realized that her artwork needs to be seen to be understood.
For Kent, the process of developing into an artist is a combination of education and exploration. As a child, her medium was chalk and board, which is where she first started to experiment. You could write a word on the chalk board, everyone does that, but what happened when you colored the word to give it character, or shaded the word to give it dimension? Suddenly, Kent was experimenting with the very purpose of the chalk board, an experience that exhilarated her. She was learning that there were rules to art, but those rules were meant to be broken. Even the medium itself could be bent to the will of the artist as the young Kent turned chalk into watercolor, and experimented in every way she could think of, losing herself in her art. “It was there that time first disappeared,” she said of her first experiences creating art.
Kent then decided to pursue a formal education in art. As she pursued her B.A. in Art Education and post-grad work at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, she learned the fundamentals, the rules. She developed the necessary components of her craft, like her color sense, through her formal education — but it wasn’t everything. “I didn’t discover my voice until stepping outside the expected. Looking for images that don’t exist is my mission.” Her formative experiences in art as a child crept back up, and she returned to experimentation and wonder.
Crystallizing her personal style came by chance. Two decades ago, her partner Jim Barner repaired and repurposed furniture. He gave Kent the opportunity to finish these pieces — and she discovered wood as canvas. She would finish the wood in unusual ways. She felt thath this experiment opened her up to many new possibilities in art-making.
“Working with wood loosened my horizons, and loosening my style became the new goal. Over the past twenty years, painting furniture morphed into turning furniture shards into assemblages, then intentionally, or not, building unique pieces from scratch,” she explains.
And so Kent’s style developed naturally on its own. Her style moves seamlessly from art to craft, resulting in a dimensional appeal. “The difference between craft and art is muddled, but to me that extra dimension is what craft offers: the tactile/visual sense of a hands-on effort.” You have to strive to find which dimensions are real and which are illusion in her artwork, and it’s the places in between where Kent likes to work.
When you look at her work, it’s obvious she favors creating people and animals. “Any critter that has two eyes and connects with your soul,” she says about her subjects.
When you observe Kent’s work, and you notice you can’t tell where the real shadows and highlights begin and where the painted shadows and highlights end, you realize it’s analogous to trying to describe it to begin with. Ultimately, we can talk about the subject of the art, the medium of the art, and in the end maybe even come pretty close to a complete description of it, and yet still we need to simply experience it. “That’s what a folk artist would say,” Kent says of her artwork, “you know it when you see it.”