Robbie Bushe constructs intricate and fantastical worlds within each of his paintings, forming narratives with a distinct futuristic aesthetic. Although he does not define himself by any one style or genre, Robbie's illustrative approach lends itself to a strong sense of storytelling, in which imagined characters inhabit otherworldy planes and surreal settings.
Robbie recently joined Rise Art and his painting, New Hadrian's Wall is currently showing in our Emergence exhibition. We caught up with Robbie to learn more about his practise, his inspiration and what he has planned next.
How would you describe the art you create?
I used to refer to myself as a narrative figurative painter, but now I just like to be a painter or artist. While I am definitively drawn to telling visual stories illustratively, often from memory and personal experience, it can manifest itself in several ways. I am fascinated by the parallels that memory and visual recall have with the act of pictorial painting. So, I don’t regard myself as a specific kind of painter, but if I had to describe it, it would be an artist who conjures up pictures and stories from memory and personal experience.
What are the fundamental messages you want to get across with your work?
I don’t think I have a particular message; I enjoy revealing and reliving remembered imagined spaces, occasions and people. When working from memory, I embrace how the act of painting gets physically entwined with my detective work and deductions of what a space looked like and how it can be revealed through paint. It may be that this is what makes paint so uniquely compelling; to conjure up half forgotten events and imagery.
Have you always worked in a figurative style?
People describe my work as narrative, figurative or illustrative – and some may even call it surreal. I try not to typecast myself into any genre, but of course others will and do and I don’t have an issue with that. Looking back through my career, the main common thread is as a painter of an internal world of personal experiences, memories and daydreams; figurative, narrative and architectural within complex compositions in muted or close toned colours.
How has your practice evolved in recent years?
The most obvious change is the compositional complexity of my imagery has increased. In my early career I made narrative work enclosed in confined domestic living spaces with one, perhaps two figures within a fixed point in time. In recent years, I have found devices to incorporate intimate interior narratives within expansive panoramic exterior locations and cutaway sections of buildings, often set in multiple times. While drawing and depiction remains at the heart of my practice, there is now a cinematic fantastical element to the works.
What’s an average day like in your studio? Is it important for you to keep to a routine when creating work?
This varies as I have l developed strategies how to adjust and weave making work inside and outside of other commitments. But when I am working my routine is; Get in early. Have two works on the go at any one time. Having a plan; a drawing, an image ready to go. Decide what bit of the painting I am going to do (and stick to it), spend an hour mixing colour ranges (and sticking to them) – then painting for three hours totally absorbed. Clean up. Work out plan for next session and stick to it. This is incredibly important to me as it is vital that I can keep the motor ticking on my art practice even during the most hectic schedules in my education roles.
How do you go about titling your works?
Most often it is the central idea or image which comes first; I will be drawing and turning over different variances of how the idea could be conceived visually, and I am not really thinking about words or titles. For those works, titling then can become quite trickly thing – because as soon as you give a work a title, you are nailing its colour to the mast, and maybe taking away some of the ambiguity. So, I guess, I try to keep the titles enigmatic enough as to not illustrate the work or vice versa. But they don’t come easy. Sometimes I will look to popular culture; for example, I might write down memorable clichéd lines from sports commentators or the weather report – or a half caught eavesdrop of a conversation as I pass – and try to shoehorn a visual idea around it.
How long do you spend on each work? Do you tend to focus on one painting at a time, or work on many at once?
Most weeks I have three days clear to myself in the studio - anything else is a bonus. While my work is quite complex to draw out and paint, I am quite dextrous and quick in the application of paint. For medium to larger works, I may spend between 3 - 6 weeks from start to finish, while also working on at least one other work at the same time. A pair of large works on the go helps keep the energy and freshness going and it means you have time to let layer of oil dry and reflect on how its going while I get on with the other. Small painting may just appear out of nowhere, often as I am cleaning my palette getting ready for the next day.
What/Who are your key influences?
My formative years, it was comic book illustrators like Herge, Mike McMahon and Brian Bolland. When I started to learn about painting I devoured the works of Steven Campbell, Ben Shahn and Pierre Bonnard. These days I tend to seek out painters who want to tell visual stories in irreverent and playfuls ways; It changes continuously but currently I have been stealing unashamedly from Hernan Bass, Tal R, Makiko Kudo, Danny Fox, Dale Lewis, Juliet Gooden and Jules de Balincourt.
Who are some Rise Art artists with work you're enjoying at the moment?
I am just getting to know and browse the site so still lots to discover. However, artists who caught my attention are Nina Lamiel Bruchaus, Irene Hoff, Frank Creber and Diana Rosa’s wonderful cacti people.
Are you currently working on any exciting new projects?
As I answer these questions, I have just come out of an intense three-year period where I had two major exhibitions. Time for a recharge and at present I am doing the ‘100 day challenge’ by making, each day, a simple observed drawing from my garden, each one taking no longer than an hour, and posted on Instagram as I make them. The repetition and routine of looking is incredibly important to me and will feed my imagination for the next project – I don’t yet know what that will be, but it will almost certainly involve ghosts in the garden.