West-coast based designer Robbie Simon’s practice spans commercial and personal; he works in paint, digital media and textile. Even as he fulfils commissions for the likes of Coachella and Post Malone, he pushes his instantly-recognisable visual language in new and fresh directions.
An abstract colourist, his principal concern is finding beauty in forms, tones, shapes and colours juxtaposed. He’s a methodical and pain-staking worker, taking full advantage of the range offered by new technologies to push towards his intangible ideal; his new releases for Terra Cotta Prints speak to this, conveying a sense of rhythm and form, attracting the eye and the mind’s reflection, even as they refute any literal interpretation. We caught up with Robbie in his studio in California to learn more about his principles and processes.
IS THERE A MOMENT, OR A PIECE OF ART, OR DESIGN, THAT YOU CAN REMEMBER THAT SET YOU ON THE PATH YOU'RE ON?
I feel as I definitely got into this by accident. You know, my family was not necessarily a creative family. And so the path always needed to be somewhat pragmatic, and I always drifted into creative stuff. It was always on a whim, or, kind of felt like a nice hobby. The way my family was aligned, I really knew nothing about being an artist. It was important to be secure, so I took the most practical/safest form that I could find, which was graphic design, and started there. Everything since then has been a step in going a little bit left or askew, just finding a path that’s a bit more free, a path towards a bit more freedom. Every day I push things a little further, to express myself more freely, you know.
SO HOW DOES YOU CLIENT WORK INFORM YOUR PERSONAL PRACTICE?
It's kind of the other way around; it's almost like introducing the newest ideas in the form of the artwork adds something to your menu. And, again, I think my life in commercial work allows me to comfortably use this, kind of crass, commercial language, but the art shows off the new ideas and what I think is really interesting in pushing the practice and the visual language.
It’s an opportunity to push boundaries, and express myself in what I think is the most pure and interesting way. I isolate my paintings from the rest of the work, and develop them with the idea that this is, to me, the pinnacle of my practice. This is the best work, these are the strongest compositions that I believe I can make, and I have made so far. I put them in this pure space to be appreciated just on their own. And so, to me, they're very valuable artistically, but they also help commercially, because they represent the purest distillation of everything I’m doing. When they’re made they become an available concept, to be utilised elsewhere.
CRASH 1, 2 & 3 by Robbie Simon, all exclusively available from TCP
LOTS OF THE ARTISTS WE FOREGROUND ON TCP CONSIDER THEMSELVES STORYTELLERS; WHAT'S YOUR CONCEPTUAL STARTING POINT WITH YOUR PRACTICE?
I am so different to that, God, I don't have any interest in storytelling, really. I kind of push for an opposite sort of approach. And the way I find a painting to be successful is that I want them to be inviting, and engaging. I want like a viewer to find the composition interesting. The goal is really that they’re a bit of a portal. They’re a bit of a Rorschach test for everyone else. I think that concept of the Rorschach test has always been so interesting in its application through abstract art. It goes from my own interests in seeing abstract art. I have so much interest in something that I can relate to personally, in my own way, and it just kind of hits me in the gut, versus, some really fantastic tale or allegory or metaphor about any sort of societal ills or someone's personal life or something of that ilk!
The things that really hit me, the pieces of art that really get me, are the ones that, I feel something personal with. I like to spend time thinking about it and extrapolating it and, you know, making the pieces that I enjoy so that they can be part of my own story, and that's kind of how I approach the art. I work on intuition through the compositions, I'll kind of see something that I think is interesting, and pursue it, and refine it, till I think it's going in a different direction. If there's a certain movement or structure to it that I think is engaging. I have a funny relation to it as it's develops, in that I feel like I also become some of the part of the viewer at a certain point, because I'm not working off of concept, and I'm not working off of a specific emotion.
So, I start to ask, what am I taking out of this? How am I feeling about this so far? What am I seeing in this? A lot of it is about what it resembles? Where does that put me? And so as I'm developing the paintings, I start to sit with them and think about what I’m seeing, and that'll kind of inform where I go. I become both creator and viewer of it. And then, that part that informs it too, because if I feel like it's starting to render too distinctly, and becomes too obviously narrative, or figurative, I'll start to reduce elements to make it a bit more vague. That's the sort of thing I hope would make a successful piece. If a viewer relates elements of the painting to other forms, images, memories or experiences. Then they process that through the rest of the piece, and the colours, relate to that and build a narrative of their own out of it. And that, to me, is a successful piece. If people just look at it and say it looks nice and move on then I’m fine with that, too. But for a piece to be successful, someone engages with it, sits with it, and finds something that resonates with them.
I like them to be portals, I like them to be this open ended thing that people relate to and find their own story, and get. Because I don't want to tell anyone a story. Hopefully they find a story in it. It's kind of how I like to look at it.