Collaborating with artists,
Alex: Robyn, good morning, I want to congratulate you on your nomination for being not only a featured artist but the cover artist in the Premier issue of Long Island Portfolio magazine.
Robyn: Thank you, Alex. I’m thrilled and honored to be featured!
Alex: There are many reasons why I wanted to have you on the cover and featured in the premiere issue. You’ve been creating art on Long Island in so many different ways for such a long time, and I’ve gotten to see so many different aspects of your art. I can’t think of anyone who better represents Long Island art and artists, and I since I know you, it’s an easy way for me to break the ice. Can you tell us about how and when you first realized you’re an artist?
Robyn: When I was about eight years old, I saw paint box filled with oil paints in my living room. My parents were taking college classes at night and one of the required courses was fine art. I asked my parents if they could teach me how to paint. I also wanted to do music, but we had a very small house and it was more intrusive to my family, so art was a better fit.
Alex: We first met about 10 or 15 years ago through the website ModelMayhem, and then at the UU Fellowship of Huntington where you were in the choir. You certainly pursued music. Most of the artwork that I’m familiar with that you’ve done is abstract and fantasy-based. Did you start in a more realistic way, as opposed to how your art developed?
Robyn: I learned by beginning with the basics, including attending life drawing classes for high school students that took place at C. W. Post on Saturday mornings. My parents had art books that I pored through and I began copying the masters, like Leonardo. I copied some of his pencil portraits and even have a young girl’s version of the Mona Lisa.
I began learning the basics of line, shadow, and perspective because it’s very important to have that as a foundation. So, I started realistically, but that’s not where my strength lies. Eventually my own style developed.
Alex: Yeah, the only word I could think of to describe you and everything that you do is artist because you don’t fit in any box. What other types of art do you do?
Robyn: I’ve done sculpture in the form of wooden altarpieces that I cut and then painted and put together with beautiful hinges. Papier-mache masks are something I’ve enjoyed making since my 20’s. I’ve done some photography with cheap little cameras. For a time, I stopped painting in 2007 and turned to photography, which has been a very important part of my life. I then turned the camera on myself and did a series of self-portraits and used Photoshop to add a more expressive quality to them.
For a while, I created short video self-portraits, which were like little stories and very cathartic. That evolved into dance and performance. Music and singing became a big part of my life when I joined the choir in 2012 and learned that I could sing, which I didn’t think I could. I got more involved with music in recent years by playing some bass guitar and writing my own songs. I also play an Indian instrument called a tanpura. Percussion is a big part of my life and I have a djembe drum I play, along with other percussion instruments. Occasionally I write poetry and short stories. Recently I’ve begun playing with flowers and arranging them into designs inspired by Ikebana.
Alex: When we were collaborating, it was your costume design and movement that made me first want to work with you. Can you tell us about your experience with collaboration, who you’ve collaborated with, the different types of collaboration that you’ve done, and the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of collaboration because I know it’s not always beautiful.
Robyn: Yes, I’ve collaborated in many different ways.
One collaboration was for Long Island Visual Professionals (LIVP) organized by Paul Lipsky where Larry Richards was the Creative Director. Larry created videos of artists and other creative people here on Long Island doing their thing. Larry did three videos for me that combine my art, dance, and poetry. The videos are on my YouTube channel. I did collaborations with a few different photographers where I sent them self-portrait photographs and they used their Photoshop skills to create totally new images. Then I met you, and I’ve really enjoyed our collaborations because you’re a gifted photographer, you’re great to work with, and you’re open to my ideas.
That’s one of the things I most love about collaborating. I can have a vision for something and the freedom to do my part, but then what you do with Photoshop is amazing, like the one you titled “Dream Walker,” which won you an award. I love that image. The downside was that I was unclear about the story I wanted to tell in that photo shoot, but you took one of the images and brought something magical out of it. In our other photo shoots, I had more clarity about what I wanted to bring on my part, as far as costume, setting, and story.
Alex: We did a photo shoot at Coindre Hall in Huntington and you were surrounded by wonderful artistic friends who were open and contributed to a magical day. We did a steampunk shoot at your friend’s Victorian house where I think either eight or nine friends joined in. The cover image on this magazine is one of the pictures from that shoot. I never know what your starting point is.
Before you get into motion, you know who your character is and what your costume is, but I have no idea until you actually knock on the studio door or meet me in the park. For me, that’s the starting point, and I go from there. I don’t know if we’ve actually sat with each other beforehand for anything and said, OK let’s do this and then build everything together side by side.
Robyn: I don’t think we have and I kind of like surprising you so that you can be in the moment, but I don’t know if that’s easier or harder for you.
Alex: It’s easier for me to be surprised because if I have something in mind beforehand, then I’m likely going to try to guide you to my vision instead of building something new together. I want to have an open road and be able to create something completely new that we didn’t start with, and I think we’ve been very successful with that.
Robyn: Yes. My favorite shoot with you was in the woods because we did four different photo shoots in one. I felt free to be whatever it was I was feeling in the moment. I brought several costume changes that were easy where I could just throw something on over what I was wearing and it totally transformed it. Not only was I free to express myself through movement ’cause I do dance and art modeling and I’ll work that into it.
One of the greatest things I can receive as an artist is freedom to express myself. It’s always easy to work with you because you’re always open to my ideas and I could just emote. When I saw the photographs afterward, I looked at what you saw and you captured the angles, the moments when it felt very intense and expressive for me, and you captured these beautifully. Sometimes you would give minimal guidance, like what we got from the fairy shot that turned that into such magic.
I didn’t know what you were seeing and when I saw the finished work …
you did Photoshop to it, the green one where I’m reaching out… I could not have done that work on my own. I can be on my end and do my part, but I that collaboration is necessary in order for me to gain something much greater than myself that I couldn’t have done on my own.
Alex: If you look at the different photos that we’ve got, they’re very, very different they don’t even look like they’re from the same shoot or same session. It’s almost like you changed costume then the whole world changed around you. You used the term transformation before and it was just an amazing thing for me to capture. Then there are limitations when you’re in nature about what’s there, so there has to be in my eyes a capture process and for me, the capture starts with capturing who you are at peak moments of emotion and then trying to enhance that to tell the story. So the collaboration is ongoing and it continues from the time we decided we’re going to do a shoot.
Robyn: Yeah, I don’t even know how I look when I’m posing. For instance, when I had a vinyl coat on and it totally transformed me and at one point I was near an upended tree stump…
Alex: Underneath… you were underground…
Robyn: Yes, and I didn’t even think of that, you did. It really smelled horrible down there, but it was worth it because what you did with that shot was incredible with the blue filters and Photoshop effects.
Alex: What were the circumstances around your least favorite collaboration?
Robyn: It was probably where the other person had such a strong agenda that it didn’t feel like a collaboration because they wanted me to fit into something rather than have us work together, and that didn’t feel true to me. There has to be like some kind of framework but then there has to be the freedom for each person to express themselves.
Alex: Also kind of relinquishing control as to what happens because when another person comes in and adds something, it might be different than what we hoped, so it’s kind of relinquishing expectation but allowing freedom within a framework.
So tell me, where would we go to see your work online or in person?
Robyn: My website is www.robynbellospirito.com. In person, my art is hanging at Cornucopia’s Noshery in Amityville. Erica Reichlin and her husband Jean Paul are the owners and they’ve had my art on their walls for over ten years. I rotate the art every so often when I do new work. In January my art will be at the Huntington Public Library on Main Street in Huntington.
Alex: In closing, who are some of your favorite artists who work here on Long Island, anywhere from Montauk to Manhattan?
Robyn: Wow, there are so many… Mike Krasowitz is an amazing oil painter and he and his wife Wendi do a lot of collaborations with each other. Mike Stanko, who is a good friend and wonderful artist. Ginger Balizer-Hendler, I love her work. Ginger has written a play based on her art and turned it into theater. Darren Borkel has Outrlimits in Franklin Square and is an amazing multimedia artist, who I’ve known since the 90’s. I love the art of Pam Nolan, Carol Cappozzo, Denise Kramer, Linda Louis, Emily Eisen, Andrea Lawl Manning. There are so many.
Alex: The magazine is really all about the artist and giving them a place to do self-promotion for themselves and their work and so I think sometimes the artist is going to be on the cover, sometimes their work, and sometimes their collaboration.
Your steampunk was just beyond my imagination, hence the cover.
Robyn: that was so much fun. I had no idea what to expect, and so many great images came out of that session but that’s also your openness to to letting us have fun and you know me and all my friends and being open to new ideas.
I don’t even know if you had heard of steam-punk, but you were open to it. One of my favorite shots from that day was when I was crouched by the side of a wall near a panel or some kind of a doorway. My friends were behind me and it looked like I was going to open it. You got a certain angle looking at us, it was wild what you did with that shot. Other photographers might have just taken a straight shot, but you made it look slightly distorted. Whatever you did made it look like a different world.
Alex: I didn’t want it to look like it was just in somebody’s living room. You guys were completely out of time than the Victorian room you were in, so I wanted to try and bring the field to that different time.
Robyn: You brought a lot of magic to those photos and to me, that’s the most satisfying part of the collaboration. You took whatever I was bringing and you turned it into this tangible visual image with these extra components that I couldn’t have created on my own, so thank you for that. It’s been the most joyful part of my creative career to collaborate with you, so thank you so much.
Alex: Thank you for collaborating with me. That very first time we got out there, that’s really the start of being open to working with people who I didn’t know and that’s been so, so very wonderful for me.
Nominate a featured artist or contact Long Island Portfolio
Visit Robyn’s website : www.robynbellospirito.com.