Robin Colodzin is a mixed-media artist, a software engineer, and a member of the Copley Society of Art for six years running. Her solo exhibition, Embodied, perfectly encapsulates her multifaceted talents, containing both painting and augmented reality components. Colodzin’s collection of work is deeply vulnerable and tackles a topic that relates to everyone: the body. In today’s society, it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t have, or hasn’t had, a complex relationship with their body. Colodzin gives room to this topic, creating a space for viewers to reflect on their own experiences and feel validated through her imaginative, colorful strokes of acrylic, ink, watercolor, paper, pastel, and more. No one can more eloquently talk about Embodied than Colodzin herself, so I’ll let you hear from her directly.
Portrait of Robin Colodzin
Can you give us some background on your career? Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?
“I grew up in the D.C. area and would spend hours at the East Wing of the National Gallery, looking at art. But I had this idea that artists were people who were magically talented, born knowing how to do what they did, and I felt that I was not one of those people. I eventually found my way to art through collage – everyone knows how to cut and paste. And then the practice of playing with that led me to experiment more and more. I think that’s why experimentation is such a central part of my art-making process.
I have pursued studies with a variety of teachers, spending time learning to draw and paint from observation, learning about color theory and how to work in acrylic, watercolor and oil paint. I seek out places and opportunities to learn.”
Has your work always been about the body? What led you to this topic?
“While my work has not always been specifically about the body, it has always been an exploration of how to express what I am feeling in my own body. Gesture, and being connected to my own physical sensations as I paint is important in my work.
This group of paintings explores my sense of self in relation to the world, and the gap between the image and the sensation; the lived experience of being in a body and the social context in which the body is being watched. While being seen, being judged, the body is always there, experiencing.
In his book “Ways of Seeing”, John Berger wrote “seeing comes first.” Before we find words, there is the visual and visceral experience.
I am also exploring the way in which large bodies live in the world in our present and in the context of history. I am moved by figures from the ancient world, carved, hand crafted figures of large-bodied women. The lushness of these figures and the way that they were hand-made thousands of years ago, it is like stepping outside of culture, and across time to the simple humanity of the body, the lush, large, round female body.
The particular figures I was looking at for this body of work are sculptures from Southwest Arabia made in the 4th millennium BCE which I found in the book Idols: The Power of Images by Annie F. Caubet. It is a catalog of an exhibition held in Venice 2018-2019 on the art of anthropomorphic figures from Spain to the Indus, 4th and 3rd millennium BCE.”
Standing Steatopygeous Figures, Southwest Arabia, IV millennium BC
Can you take us through your process for creating a piece?
“There is this quiet, wordless space that is central for me in my relationship with my work. It is a place where I can be present with whatever is happening, and give it a place to show up, in color, textures, in mark making and imagery.
It starts for me with mark-making – using pencils, paint, ink, collage to create shapes, lines, texture, and the vibration of color. There is a joy and a freedom in it. This is what draws me to the studio.
Scribbling delights me. I intentionally allow myself to make marks that are free, loose and don’t have any agenda. I send my attention to the connection between my inner self and my hand, without going through subject matter, language, or meaning. I let the marks be messy, not pretty. These scribbles have this aliveness, they are their own beings.
At this point, I am not working with an image in my mind that I am trying to have show up on the paper. I am listening. I am listening inside myself, to my mood, I am listening to the materials I am working with, and then I am listening to how the first mark talks to the second mark, and then how they both react to a third. I am also listening to how it feels in my body, the movement of my arm and hand.
This way of relating to art crystallized for me out of conversations I had with my art teacher and mentor, Amber Scoon, who I have studied with for nearly four years. In our studies together, we read “The Origin of the Work of Art” by philosopher Martin Heidegger.
Heidegger asks, what is the “being” of art, and of a work of art, distinct from its use? What is being when separated from a purpose or end goal?
When I am working in the studio, three beings come together: the human animal that I am, thinking and feeling in the moment of painting; what I am observing in the world as I work including observing the work itself as it unfolds; and the surface pushing back—the materials having a say and the specific marks as they come together forming their own world.
The rigor of practice is also important, getting to know the materials, getting more fluid with the connection between the eye and the hand, the brush or the pencil.
What I’m interested in when making a painting is bringing together a mix of non-representational spaces created through expressive mark-making, recognizable figurative elements, and words.”
Colodzin, deep in her creation process
In your artist statement, you write, “Vulnerability can be a superpower.” Can you elaborate on that?
“Perhaps another way to say this is, curiosity can be a superpower. And you cannot be fully present and open to curiosity without encountering vulnerability.
The world is an uncertain place. Trying to pin it down, and make it certain enough that I can feel invulnerable is a Sisyphean task. Instead, if I can let myself slowdown enough to be present with what is, in all of its difficulties, I find room to breathe, and a path forward.
The power of being fully present means I am allowing parts of the world and myself to arise that otherwise I would be ignoring; and that is actually opening up so many possibilities in image, texture, in form, in concept, in feeling, in gesture.
There is a Mark Twain quote that I love. “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” The more I can befriend the fears that arise, the less energy that I spend defending against them, and the more I can show up for what is happening in the moment.
Of course, this is not always possible, and there are times when I need to just turn on tv, or do other things that let me numb out. But it is important to me to at least hold an attitude that vulnerability has gifts to offer, rather than it being something to run away from or defend against.”
You mentioned an augmented reality component of the show. Do you want to talk more about that?
“As part of my show, some paintings will have QR codes that let you see some augmented reality (AR) viewable through your smartphone. You will be prompted to download the Hoverlay app, and then you will be able to view additional content, including sound, video and 3-dimensional views of the inspirations for some of the figures I include. This content will be overlaying the paintings – you will see it and see the room around you at the same time.
When you look at art in galleries and museums what you see is the end product, a result. You see a snapshot of where the process of making took the artist, where they chose to stop, what felt like a completion for them. While I love the final result, a piece of artwork as it is, I also love it as an artifact, a window into the process of making it.
I see Augmented Reality (AR) as a way to make some of this process visible. It allows me to share the inspirations both visual and intellectual, the messy steps along the way.”
AR screenshot of Colodzin’s painting and source images that inspired her work
“Additional content includes an audio clip from John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing”, a BBC production made in 1972 that was also made into a book, the text of which I incorporated into my painting “Surveyed.”
When not making art, I work as a software engineer at MIT, so the digital world is familiar to me. With the Hoverlay app, I am exploring where my art and more technical knowledge might interact.
We are in the early days of this medium. I’m interested in how art might inhabit this new territory, what might be the pitfalls and opportunities.”
“Women Inside and Out” Robin Colodzin: Embodied
Colodzin’s work reminds us to be fully present, to be vulnerable, to play. Her show grounds the viewer in the commonality that we are all human. This message, and the uninhibited energy, is best conveyed by spending time with Colodzin’s art in person. Embodied runs from August 22nd through September 30th with an opening reception on September 8th. I urge you to come and experience for yourself the power of this show.