Walter Robinson turns erotic selfies into art

Walter Robinson turns erotic selfies into art
Courtesy of The Galleries at Moore

The thing that Walter Robinson finds most exciting about Moore College’s exhibition of his work is the fact that it’s taking place at a women’s art college.

“I’m anticipating being accused of sexism,” he says with an air of bemusement rather than defensiveness. “A lot of the material is about romance and desire, and that continues to be an issue. The most exciting part about it is the challenge and the discussion.”

“Walter Robinson: Paintings and Other Indulgences,” which opensSaturday for its only East Coast stop, spans the New York-based artist’s career from 1979 to 2014.

RELATED:Don’t miss out on these big concerts coming to Philly in 2016

But Robinson is thinking in particular of a recent body of work based on erotic selfies — paintings of photographs taken by young women to advertise their services in back-page advertisements.

“They’re not romantic, old-fashioned nudes,” he says. “Most of them are R-rated, and the women in a sense are sex workers, so they’re selling. Almost all my paintings, when they’re involved with desire like that, imply a dynamic between the picture and the viewer.”

Born in Wilmington, Delaware, and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Robinson came to prominence in the early ’80s as a part of the Pictures Generation. He also became a noted art critic, contributing to Art in America and the East Village Eye, and serving as editor of the online journal Artnet from 1996 to 2012.

RELATED:What to expect at the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts

His first significant work consisted of copies of the covers of pulp romance novels, some of which are represented in this show.

Robinson aligns himself with pop art; with a particular interest in what he calls “lowbrow culture.”

His subjects range from still lifes of over-the-counter pharmaceuticals to normcore fashion models, all drawing, he says, from “the post-modernist idea that we live in a tornado of images.”

Aiming for lowbrow

From his early romance novel covers to the more recent online selfies, and touching on other subjects such as Land’s End clothing models and paintings of newspaper advertising circulars, one subject that has consistently captured Robinson’s imagination is the art of the transitory — images meant to be consumed and quickly discarded.

“When I started painting them back in the ’80s, you could buy pulp paperbacks for 10 cents and they were falling apart and fast disappearing,” he recalls. “I’m always looking for a body of imagery that’s lowbrow and transitory, that’s omnipresent but nobody really looks at it. I like to think this ephemeral material really wants to be fine art, so I’m trying to help it along. I don’t really invent images, I just pass them on. That way I get to avoid responsibility.”

If you go:

Walter Robinson: Paintings and Other Indulgences

Jan. 23-March 12
The Galleries at Moore College of Art & Design
​20th St. & Ben Franklin Parkway
Free, 215-965-4027