She’d put it off for nearly 55 years. But,after resettling in Prescott around 2006, printmaker Robin Lieske finally picked up a paintbrush.
“It was time to do painting,” Lieske said. “I’d put it off long enough.”
Her introduction to the medium wasn’t exactly encouraging, though.
“It felt like somebody had amputated my arm from the elbow down and just stuck a stick in it,” she said.
Over the decades, the physicality of printmaking had taken its toll on her, but Lieske wasn’t ready to hang up the proverbial palette. Painting was supposed to herald her artistic rebirth. Instead, the lodestone had proven to be millstone.
“Truthfully?” Lieske said. “I hated painting.”
Life & art
The middle child of five, Lieske grew up in Minneapolis mesmerized by the works of Goya, Michelangelo, and Velázquez in her parents’ Met Museum of Art books.
She started drawing as a child, but decided to pursue the sciences rather than the liberal arts when she enrolled in Prescott College in 1971.
“I didn’t last long, though,” Lieske said. “All I wanted to do was draw.”
While she was there, she was inspired by Western photographer Jay Dusard, whom she cited as her first graphic arts teacher. Lieske dropped out but stayed in the area for about seven years. During this period, she met her now husband-of-40-some years, Bill, started a family, and discovered printmaking during a class with Mirta Hamilton at Yavapai College.
“There was something about the physical process of printmaking that really appealed to me,” Lieske said. “I’d thought I’d truly found my medium.”
Art was sidelined by life, though, and the Lieskes moved to Phoenix in 1976.
“There were more opportunities there,” Lieske said. “We both wanted to do art, but we figured it’s better to make your money first then do your art.”
Lieske taught English as a second language and raised three children.
“Once our youngest son was in kindergarten, it got easier to find time for art,” Lieske said.
After enjoying the resources of Arizona State University’s graphics department, she set up shop at home. Lieske etched countless images—sometimes as stand-alones, sometimes as series, and sometimes as the guiding illustrations for works of prose.
“Usually I have dreams that lead to images and then images lead to stories,” Lieske said. “That might sound backward, but it works for me. Sometimes I have to use multiple mediums to fully express an idea.”
Still, she put off painting. …
“She said that?! I wouldn’t believe Robin if she said she hated painting.”
That’s Paul Abbott, Lieske’s painting mentor of about four years. (If you want to see him frown, try calling him a guru.)
“She’s gotten very good at it in a very short period of time, and she knows it,” Abbott said. “There’s no mastery of this thing, whatever the medium, and I think she’s very aware of that, which helps.”
Lieske first saw Abbott’s work at show at The Raven Café. When she accepted that she wouldn’t be able to continue printmaking and needed to adopt a new medium, she took one of his classes which, at the time, was at The Art Store.
“I found out that painting is a very liquid medium and, because you’re using brushes, it can be inexact,” Lieske said. “That’s quite a change from working with etching needles that are very pointed and hard.”
In order to bridge the familiar and unfamiliar, she spray-painted her early canvas boards copper to approximate the appearance of printmaking.
“And I kept thinking, ‘I can’t wait to pull an image off of this,’” Lieske said with a laugh. “It was a really big struggle. I’d even collage these textures onto the canvas just so my brush had something to grab on to.”
Abbott said it’s not unusual for artists to bring in years of experience in other mediums.
“I challenged Robin to think of it as learning a different skill first,” he said. “Then, later, she could bring them back together as she saw fit.”
It proved humbling.
“I went from being very good in one medium to being very bad in another,” Lieske said. “I found that embarrassing at first.”
Work, work, & more work (plus even more work)
“When she’s determined about something, she doesn’t shirk away. She’s going to keep working at it.”
That’s Lieske’s husband, Bill, who can attest to the hours at the easel his wife has racked up in the last few years.
“Keep in mind, she’s been drawing since she was quite young, so her draftsmanship was never in question,” Bill said. “But she wasn’t able to get the paint to behave the way she wanted it to at first. … And she was vocal about it.”
Lieske spent —and, indeed, spends — a lot of time in her home studio, where Abbott now teaches his classes.
“There are no shortcuts with art,” Lieske said. “You have to put out hundreds of pieces before you’re going to find your footing. So far I’ve done 55 paintings and, after three-and-a-half years, they don’t suck.”
The progression from her early paintings to present is illuminating. Her use of textures and layers is no less prevalent, but their integration has become less artifice and more artful. Indeed, they’re integral.
“She’s creating a hybrid paintings,” Bill said. “There’s a character to the surfaces of her pieces that only comes from printmaking.”
“Paintings have a life of their own, and Robin’s are very personal, very quirky, and have a lot of unexpected elements in them,” he said. “Even though she’s been very humble about her first steps, she’s achieved a quality that’s really amazing for any artist.”
Despite her waxing painting prowess — a recent show at The Raven Café, her second there, showcased a much more focused, stylized set of images — Lieske remains timid.
She is, however, warming up to painting.
“I’m no longer as frustrated with it as I once was,” she said. “I enjoy painting … I guess.”
See more of Robin Lieske’s work at MoonLogic.Com/Wordpress.
James Dungeon is a figment of his own imagination. And he likes cats. Contact him at JamesDungeonCats @Gmail.Com.