Robb Stone is a friend and colleague that I had the pleasure of getting to know during my time at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Stone is experimental with materials, using bleach and acrylic on satin, acrylic on drop cloth and army tent material, and even acrylic on shower curtain. He works in a very washy style and usually makes large-scale paintings, layering several of them along the wall to induce a cinematic and narrative quality.
His earlier work showed his interest in pop culture and current events as he painted what can be described as infamous, narcissistic train wrecks – Lindsay Lohan and Heidi Fleiss in particular stand out among others. The paintings are executed unsympathetically, mocking celebrities most people would like to see buried under the ground. The themes of ‘narcissism’ and ‘train wrecks’ in a more meaningful sense reoccur prominently in the work he has made over the past 3 years, which features subjects who are acutely aware of being filmed, yet appear unthreatened by the film’s permanence and choose to partake in immoral, incriminating acts of violence and lewd behavior. Robb focuses on this behavior to the extent that it has been present in the US’s recent military involvement in the Middle East. So far he has focused on a series of isolated incidences, such as US soldiers urinating on dead Afghan bodies and the US Embassy’s guards in Kabul’s hazing rituals. The content of his paintings raises many questions: were these soldiers inherently immoral individuals, or did war make them that way? Is it possible to be in a situation so far from normal reality that anyone in that situation will lose their sense of morality? Does the context of these soldiers’ surroundings allow for them to believe they are partaking in acceptable behavior? The show-off behavior of these soldiers is perplexing; they are not at all compelled by the presence of the camera to hide their face in shame. Instead, they embrace the exposure.
Stone also deals heavily with the idea of homosexuality as being present in designated masculine/heterosexual arenas. He quite literally paints the wrestling arena and its undeniable homosexual tension in his ongoing work “Fight Club”, making close-ups of clinging, sweaty male bodies, and using bright, flamboyant colors to cause a conceptual contrast. The soldiers he paints in his military work are depicted using neon colors, sometimes against a bright pink backdrop. They are typically portrayed in a suggestive manner, bending over and undressing themselves or others, though they are the type of guys who will deny that they are gay; despite participating in obviously homosexual acts, we are led to assume they will claim they are all just “bros”.
A couple of Stone’s paintings depict what’s know as ‘the blue bra’ image, the iconic scene of Egyptian police beating a female protestor in Tahrir Square during the recent revolution. This image reads immediately; even though it’s rendered blurry and with only two colors, it retains its value as a loaded symbol for senseless violence.
Stone uses sources that are heavy and hard to work with, but that doesn’t cause him to shy away.