The Interview Issue | Shannon Robinson

The collector launches a national event in support of representational art and artists

Collector Shannon Robinson. By Marc Piscotty.

Collector Shannon Robinson. By Marc Piscotty.

This story was featured in the March 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art March 2015 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!

For a century now, much of public art conversation has been dominated by nonrepresentational styles. But the past few decades have seen a resurgence of representational art. One of its most ardent advocates in the West today is Shannon Robinson, who in 2006 left her law career to devote herself to supporting the Colorado Dominican Vocation Foundation through her annual Windows to the Divine exhibition. On November 13, Robinson launches the inaugural national symposium, convened at the Denver Art Museum, of Collectors for Connoisseurship, a new nonprofit dedicated to promoting a “dialogue about the direction of art.” We spoke with Robinson about the event and its related show, held at Gallery 1261, which features top realist painters including the ones whose works are shown here.

What do you hope to accomplish through Collectors for Connoisseurship? I think it’s vital to grow the base of collectors, and education is the key. Most of us collectors lack the education or the roadmaps for making any intentioned acquisitions plan. But I also think it’s important to introduce another 
element: more advocacy for and support of artists. If artists can’t make a living, we won’t have great art.

When you talk of artists here, your focus is specifically realist or representational artists, and you’ve made “The Renaissance of Realism” this year’s symposium theme. Why? We are seeing a resurgence of young painters who are classically trained, and an unprecedented number of ateliers and schools popping up everywhere. I think that realism, because it combines both skill and concept, is more understandable to people. With nonrepresentational progressive art, it can be more difficult to attribute concept or skill to the artist; you’re looking at something, and you don’t even know what it is. But people can grasp great realism and appreciate it more quickly, and any person can make an informed judgment about the work. What’s exciting about 
the resurgence of realism is that people are learning to train 
their own eyes and make their own judgments.

David Leffel, Tony Reyna, oil, 20 x 17.

David Leffel, Tony Reyna, oil, 20 x 17.

But you aren’t strictly limiting the scope to traditional realist works. Why does the related show at Gallery 1261 include edgier pieces like Scott Fraser’s unusual still lifes or Jill Soukup’s abstracted industrial scenes? I think that contemporary realist works can be a bridge that allows people in the progressive art market to see that not only can these realist artists draw 
but also that their work is not so traditional that it can’t also have some nuance to it.

Speaking of nuance, you seem to have taken a nuanced approach to the symposium itself, with a variety of panelists that includes not only collectors but also realist artists and magazine editors. Why such a mix? Collectors are usually offered information only by the art industry, the galleries and dealers. What they’ve been missing is a well-rounded presentation. I think collectors need to hear not only from the market but also from the artists themselves, from their fellow collectors, and from the magazines, so they will get a more well-rounded sense of what’s happening out there.

You’ve recently been giving a lecture subtitled “Practical Tips on the Art Market and How Everyone Can Become a Collector.” So, what quick tips would you offer aspiring collectors? One of the first things you need to do is try to determine what your goals are, what’s your motivation. In a radical way, that will affect how you collect. If you want to build a legacy collection, you need to know what’s out there, who’s collecting what, which museums have a need. You have to be very focused. But if 
you’re simply collecting for your own aesthetic pleasure, you may be what is called a horizontal collector, selecting works from a number of different artists and styles to please yourself. You’ll have a much more cohesive collection sooner in your collecting lifetime.

But does the art have to be expensive or important to make you a serious collector? Art is not just a luxury item. To me, art is a very part of our being, and it makes humanity and life beautiful in every respect. Art is important. Everybody can be a collector, and everyone can own at least one piece of visual art. 
—Interview by Norman Kolpas

Featured in the March 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
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