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Carole Robb: Women and Water

by Robert Sievert

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Carole Robb: Empty Fountain, 2003-6, oil on linen, 70 x 84in

Carole Robb: Fountain of the Lion, 2003-6, oil on linen, 70 x 84ins

Carole Robb: The Diver, Paestum, 2003-6, oil on linen, 60 x 84ins


The paintings of Carole Robb at the Robert Steele Gallery are both darkly romantic as well as classically structured. They are dreams in which a woman is placed in a neoclassical or sometimes modern setting. She is not really present but maintains a distracted sleepy demeanor which is unaffected by the surroundings she is set in. Robb is a woman painter from Scotland who lives in New York and has worked (painted) in Rome and Venice.

Here’s the story: Robb is visiting Villa d'Este,a sixteenth century estate in Tivoli and sees a woman in a short black dress lying on a bench and then later leaning against a wall. Something clicks! The next day she hires a model, buys a similar dress, and begins this series of paintings. She and her model return to the estate and reinvent the situation moving from place to place.

What comes out is a darkly romantic tale. Again and again we encounter this woman fitfully disported in some neo-classical setting, lying on a fountain. It sort of feels like the films of Antonioni, especially L'Avventura, where Monica Viti travels from place to place along the Italian coast searching for a friend and some sort of meaning. In these paintings the woman is given a similar role... defining place after place with her languishing presence.

In one painting, Fountain of the Lion the woman is lying on a fountain as on a beach while the decorative lion spews water from his mouth. There are myriad rferences to the classical world such as decorating the fountain are a number of lion heads interset with figures one might see on pottery. The lion heads employ an expressive geometry known to the classical world. The same thing with the lion and his anatomy. Robb flattens out her designs and gives us a modern painting space Against this modern space she paints classical motifs, animals, figures, and those wonderful geometretics found on Pompean Villa walls.

A few paintings are set in a modern space, a swimming pool, a garden; while nice, these paintings are not as engaging as the ones set in neoclassical settings. There is something about this figure of the woman set against ornate historical backgrounds that works. The overlapping of the two worlds is a success

The paintings themeselves are quite heroic, large and well-constructed with a painterly flair. Her drawing is a bit awkward in the same way Cezanne's was. Forms seem truncated and toy, yet an overall stylistic consistency prevails.

It is interesting to me that Robb titles her show WOMEN AND WATER, in that the water seems to be the least interesting aspect of this work both for its subjective content and its painterly interpetation.


  copyright © 2006 Robert Sievert




August 17, 2005