Emerging Artists | Jospeh Robertson

Carving out a sense of place

Joseph Robertson, Executive Board Meeting, scratchboard/mixed media, 24 x 34.

Joseph Robertson, Executive Board Meeting, scratchboard/mixed media, 24 x 34.

This story was featured in the March 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art March 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

Since venturing into scratchboard art a few decades ago, Arizona native and longtime Prescott resident Joseph Robertson hasn’t thought twice about his choice in subject matter. Cowboy themes, Native American life, and western wildlife are the subjects he knows best—subjects that have been both close at hand and near to his heart since he was a boy. “Just like they tell writers to write what they know, as an artist, I try to heed that advice and portray what I know and love,” says Robertson. Scratchboard is a slow, intensive medium, he adds, so connecting with each piece is essential.

With their spare backgrounds and singular focus, the artist’s scratchboard works might appear simple in form, but his intricate markings within the subjects themselves reveal depth and complexity. Robertson begins each work by applying black India ink to clay-coated hardboard; then, typically using photographs for reference, he meticulously carves into the ink using scalpels, needles, and assorted nontraditional tools. To achieve subtle textures, he might use paper towels, pencil erasers, and even Windex; for rougher textures and stippling effects, he’ll reach for his Dremel or other power tools. And not all of his scratchboard compositions are purely black-and-white. The artist, who studied color theory with painter James M. Coulter, often enhances his pieces with acrylic washes that range in intensity from delicate sepia tones to brilliant green and fuchsia hues.

Last year Robertson’s scrupulous portrayal of a Grand Canyon bull elk garnered Best of Show at the Phippen Museum’s annual Western Art Show and Sale. And in 2016, the Phippen family bestowed upon him the prestigious Phippen Family Award, which is given each year to an artist whose work reflects the ideals of western artist George Phippen (1915-1966). As for his work’s popularity among collectors, Robertson suspects it’s because his western images convey a strong sense of place, particularly his depictions of regional fauna like the bobcat and Gambel’s quail. And for some viewers, adds the artist, his portrayals of wildlife may even express a deeper, spiritual significance. “There are totem animals for everyone, whether it’s the wolf or the elk or the mountain lion—these larger-than-life, iconic animals that give them a spiritual lift,” he says. “And I’m more than happy to
create images that give people a bump in their spirit.”
  —Kim Agricola

representation

The Gallery in Williams, Williams, AZ; Hart of AZ Art Gallery, Cottonwood, AZ; Joseph Robertson Gallery, Prescott, AZ.

This story was featured in the March 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art March 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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