Colette Robbins- Painterly Muse

This weekend we were lucky enough to spend some time with Colette Robbins in her Queens studio. Colette was kind enough to do a trade with me for a pair of Phoebe clogs, so we thought it might be fun to do a little photoshoot and talk about her work, what inspires her and what it’s like to be a working artist in NYC.
Isobel: When we met a couple years ago at a party in Brooklyn, we realized that we went to the same small all-girls catholic school in St. Louis. What a small world! Do you think going to an all-girls school affected you, and how?
Colette: It was really strange to meet another lady from our Catholic School in New York because it is such a tiny school even for St. Louis standards.  I do think that going to an all-female school has affected me.  Maybe the nuns would not be too keen to hear this, but one of the biggest lessons I learned from our high school was how to host amazing parties.  Having a team of creative and diverse ladies around me at all times, made for some great themed parties. One of my friends would always design a flyer for the themed party, and we had such different crowds come together at my house. This was an important skill to obtain for an artist in the art world, since every opening or event you have requires you to be a type of hostess for your art and the gallery.
I was also lucky because many of my friends from school volunteered to model nude for me. My parents built me a small studio in the basement, so I was constantly having art parties that involved art making. Whether I was painting my friends nude with oils or making wax relief sculptures, I feel lucky to say that my high school experience was full of a lot of creative exploration and freedom.

Isobel: When did you realize that you were an artist? What were the kinds of things you made as a kid?

Colette: I think that being an artist means different things at different times of your life. When I was eleven I had a mentor who taught me how to paint with oils, and had a portfolio that I would show to anyone who would look. I made moody expressive portraits of my family and animals, and I made Van Gogh inspired paintings of my bedroom.  I also set up a commission business with a grade school classmate so I could make money for creating portraits of my teacher’s spouses or animals. I had such a dream of being an artist and business women. Specifically, my idols were Tess McGill played by Melanie Griffith from the 1988 film ‘Working Girl’ and Vincent Van Gogh.
Like I mentioned above I continued making art as much as possible in high school and studied at many colleges and art schools while in high school. Then I took the art school path and went to Maryland Institute College of Art for undergraduate and Parsons for Graduate school. I decided to become a professional artist in the New York art world when I entered graduate school in 2005. I specify when I made that switch, because it is different to just make art in your studio and to participate in the New York art world and market.

Isobel:  You’ve talked to me about how creative your mum is, and how she still plays in a rock-band. How does she inspire you?

Colette: My mom is so inspiring. She used to play mini-concerts for my friends and I in high school and I used to fall asleep to her band practice as a child. My mom is fearless with her music and is now in a Goth-metal band in the Midwest! To say she was supportive of my decision to pursue the arts at such a young age would be an understatement. My mom and dad are both incredibly supportive of everything I do.
My mom also inspired my fashion sensibilities. I went to a conservative grade school, where most of the mothers wore fur coats and played tennis. My mom had cropped spiked hair and wore a leather jacket. She taught me to be bold when it comes to fashion and to refuse to care what others think of my clothing and make-up choices.

So many clogs, so little time.

Isobel: You share your studio with your
husband, who’s also an artist. Can you talk a bit about what it’s like both
being in the art world? What are some of the challenges and benefits?

Colette: It is funny, that question comes up almost every time Micah and I meet someone new as a couple. Micah and I have been together for almost 10 years, so our personal relationship and our relationship with our art and the art world continues to evolve and shift.  It was a struggle for me at first because I had so much personal space all my life and Micah did not have much, so it was an easy adjustment for him.  Now, after some time adjusting, I love sharing with him, and I cannot imagine it any other way.
I love that we are both artists in the art world because I have someone who I can get an honest critique from and at the same time have a spouse that provides me unlimited support.  I also always have a cohort to go to openings and events with which helps make the experience more enjoyable.
The only real unavoidable challenge of having a relationship with another artist in the art world, is that you have to work together really hard to get distance from the art world when you need it, and that can be a big challenge. We are also both hard workers so we have to make sure to schedule date nights, so that we do not find ourselves shut up in the studio for too many weeks in a row.

Isobel: I’ve always admired your style, and of course your incredible red hair. I imagine it can be challenging to be both stylish and professional in the very male-centric art world. Can you talk a bit about your style?

Colette: Thanks Isobel! I love fashion and am inspired by the cut of Victorian tops and coats in addition to their patterns and fabrics. I am also inspired by bohemian fabrics and tailored jackets and pants.
I believe being stylish in the art world does not relate with any of the issues of equality in the art world. A man who is sexist or a type of predator is going to be a predator towards women, whether she is dressed up or in a casual outfit.  The equality issues lie mainly in the fact that the majority of big and medium level galleries artist’s rosters are mainly male. This issue, like any inequality issue will take many years to alter. This issue will take larger shifts in our culture, including our family cultures, which can only happen because of years of evolution of our universal beliefs in what defines the roles of women and men in the working world.
For me, taking the time to put together an outfit that works with what I am feeling and shows a side of me that I want to portray is not only fun but shows that I am professional and ready for business. Again, I must mention that Tess Mcgill was one of my early idols.


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