Robin Walker's Artist Journey
By Carin Chea
It is very possible that if you look up the term "safe space" in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, you may see a photo of Robin Walker.
A psychotherapist by training and an artist by passion, Robin Walker has perfected the art of forming healing and therapeutic environments by combining theory, instinct, and creativity.
Both an accomplished therapist and fine artist, he has been able to marry psychological concepts and constructs with artistic freedom and abandon. Mr. Walker not only has a thriving clinical practice, but his weekly Open Studio, a space dedicated to drawing out the utmost authenticity and restoration to those who participate.
My conversation with Mr. Walker was invigorating, affirming, and oddly healing, much like I imagine his Open Studio sessions must be.
I am so excited to connect with you! I'm a medical social worker by trade, and I'm also a performer, so it is so great to meet a kindred spirit.
That's so funny, because I have had 4 interns in my career, and 3 of them come from the entertainment industry. There seems to be such an overlap between the creative field and being a therapist.
When did you know you wanted to be a psychotherapist, and how did that come about?
For me, I became a therapist out of my personal experience. I decided early on - I think I was 22 years old - that I was going to pursue psychology. Like a lot of people who enter this field, you do so because you're hurting.
My own feeling about psychology as an endeavor, is that we therapists can do only so much to help individuals get to a place where they are ready to have an authentic life. The rest is up to them. We help them take control of their lives: That's when authenticity begins.
When did you know you wanted to be a fine artist, and how did that come about?
I was a very depressed adolescent, and once I discovered my own self, I realized: "Wow, I wish I had gone to art school." But, it was too late for that. I was already in graduate school. I didn't want to start over again.
I recognized that I couldn't be a therapist if I wasn't taking my own advice. So, I began pursuing art. I was being my authentic self.
I understand that you are a psychotherapist who is also a talented artist, but that you are not an art therapist. How did the marriage of psychotherapy and art happen in your life?
I started to realize was that if I was to be an authentic person, I really had to pursue both of these things. Of the two of these, the thing that comes most easily for me is psychotherapy. I've never struggled with understanding it, and I've never struggled with what my role is. But, I have struggled as an artist.
I love that struggle, though.
The funny evolution in my practice is that, from the time I had my office, I had a little section of my office that was dedicated to artwork. It started in a corner with a table that had artwork on it. As the office grew and grew, the portion of it that was dedicated to art grew and grew. Now, most of the office is an art studio. I used to have a little art section. But, now I have a little consultation section.
How would you describe your art?
I've always been attracted to artists who had an immediate and unpracticed application of their art. Meaning, some of it looks like very child-like art. Like Picasso's later work, for instance. Artists who were more interested in making a mark than rendering a picture.
To me, I'm an abstract figurative artist from the expressionist tradition. I am an artist who is more interested in the immediacy of their image. Just getting it out and expressing what you're feeling right now. Very much like how a child would make a piece of artwork.
Not to reduce art to a formula, but what does your artistic process look like?
There is a bit of a formula. I start with an idea. For example, one of the themes I use over and over again is Royalty. I think the images of kings and queens represent our best selves. Like, "what if I was a princess?" I use that as a theme to talk about identity and wish fulfillment.
Then, I just start painting, just as children do. When children start a painting, they have their materials, and they just start making marks. For a child, all the marks are meaningful. It indicates a person, action, or thing. I keep painting and I do something called Reductive Painting, or Negative Shape Painting. This means that, on the canvas, I start out with too much, and then I take away. I take away the things that are not a part of the finished product.
Who or what have been your biggest influences? What inspires you?
One is from the field of psychology. One of my biggest influences has been Joseph Campbell. He's not a psychologist, but he is the guy who coined the term 'follow your bliss.' His ideas of nature and relationships have always influenced me.
And then, I became enamored with artists like David Hockney and Henri Matisse, mainly because they were in love with big color and decoration. Though my paintings are very psychological, I really like decoration first. I want to create something that'll energize the room.
How do you think your art has evolved over the years?
I've gotten better.
It's funny because, when I say that, I haven't gotten "technically" better. I suppose I could be if I wanted to be, but I don't want to. I've gotten more immediate and I've gotten more honest. Every artist has a different way of making brush strokes. In the beginning, you want to follow instructions. With time, you start to find honesty.
I want to be actually who I am, even if it's not popular or accepted readily. It's about authenticity. I'm very child-like. I just want to make marks that count.
I hear you have a weekly Open Studio. Tell me about that. How did it originate?
Currently, I have 8 people in this painting group, and only one of them is an artist, in addition to me. The others are people who are looking to express their own creativity and authenticity. It's not a "how to paint" workshop. It's a "how to paint like you" workshop. My job is to find a way to facilitate it. It's the highlight of my week.
Here's a saying I use frequently in my workshops. When someone asks me for guidance, my response is: "Alright, talk to me. Tell me what you got here." It's not about them being good. It's about them being authentic.
Who typically attends your Open Studio, and how many individuals participate? Is it a different mix of people every week?
It's the same group of people every week.
How would you describe the "process" of the Open Studio? Is there a different theme or focus every week?
Each individual brings their own focus. They bring what's in them, and what they expressing. I encourage them to make multiple paintings, not just one. It's a way to explore a topic. We could analyze something in a psychological way. But, we don't do that. We go the opposite way. We find as many ways to express that as possible.
It lasts for two and a half hours, once a week. But, we could go all day. The only reason we quit is because we have to eat lunch.
That sounds amazing. How did you all find one another?
They found me. I put myself out there as someone who could help with this. Word got out, and they came to me.
I have done limited time workshops which are educational. This group that I have is different.
It's not a wine-and-cheese painting party at a restaurant. Not that there's anything wrong with those. Those are fun. But, there is no way that the participants in the group are going to come up with the image that I'm presenting.
It comes back to my belief that people are creative. Not "creative people are creative", but "people are creative." When given the opportunity and means, it comes flooding out.
Do you have any upcoming projects or shows?
I will most likely be at the Beverly Hills Art Show in October.
There's also Mirrors of the Mind, which is in November. It's a show where all of the participants are therapists. This is now the7th show. It gets bigger and bigger every year. It'll probably be 40 or 50 artists this time.
If you had the opportunity to paint the psyche of one psychologist, who would it be, and why?
One is Donald Winnicott, whom nobody will ever have heard of unless you've gone to grad school. He said, "People's behavioral and emotional world are born of their relationships with others."
That always struck me as really important. We are social creatures. None of us can live alone. He said, "There is no such thing as a baby," because a baby cannot survive without relationship with a parent. One of the keys to longevity is having a community to be in.
The other person is Martin Seligman. He will go down in history as the modern Freud. I love the way he described how learning to dislike ourselves is mechanical, and how undoing it can also be mechanical.
It's all about how we attribute successes and failures. We should be attributing our successes not to transient things, but to our selves. The same goes with failures. Let's say we fail a test. Instead of saying, "I'm stupid," we can learn to say, "I studied the wrong things."
Why would I want to paint them? Well, both of them were really original thinkers and had a way of elucidating their ideas so everyone could understand them.
If you were to be a muse for any artist (living or deceased) who would it be?
Interesting. That's turning it upside down.
I'd want to go back to Matisse because his goal was to make decorative works of decorative things. If he was slightly more psychological, he might have nailed this. I feel like I really could have pushed him.
[Laughing] Nice! I like that.
To stay up to date with all his happenings, please visit Robin Walker's website at: RobinWalkerStudio.com or follow him on Instagram @robinwalkerstudio.
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