story by Robert Moler | photos by Greg Campbell
(Above photo: With my partner Cecil in the studio)
For as long as I can remember, visual art has been a part of my life. I was the kid who brought drawings for Show & Tell, preferred to paint inside rather than play outside, and created comic books to express myself. Unlike many artists, I was fortunate to have the love and encouragement of my mother, grandmother and favorite aunt to influence my work. My earlier painting themes were born from their worldview of the human condition, their strong Christian perspective, and their struggle to make sense of the world around them. As I grew older and became an atheist, the act of painting became much more therapeutic. Painting now helps me resolve personal problems, manage my emotions, and strengthens my sense of purpose and self- worth.
Many of these therapeutic paintings currently hang throughout the home and studio that I share in Memphis with my artistic partner, Cecil Martin, and our two dogs. This series of oil paintings, called “The Latin Series”, is comprised of backgrounds of dark values with contrasting areas of illuminated male figures and objects suspended in space. I use these images symbolically to help me tell the story I want to share with my audience, much like creating chapters or characters within a book. My themes today include the sensuality of the flesh, the pain of broken relationships, the social injustice of homophobia, religious opposition to same- sex marriage, and the shallow nature of today’s youth culture.
Like a mirror held to one’s face, my male figurative work reflects the struggle between human aspiration and the transitory nature of human existence. I usually incorporate some sort of mask or substitute an object to cover the face of the subject to lift him onto a symbolically higher level of self-awareness and consciousness. By masking the figure, the internal male psyche rather than the individual physical portrait is emphasized which brings further content to the composition. I admit that my paintings are not quickly consumed visual experiences and take some focused effort to mentally unpack. I encourage my viewers to meet me halfway by asking themselves to think about the relationships and connections these symbolic objects have within their environment. How do these visual puzzle pieces fit together?
I am drawn to surrealism as it depicts a world where time is meaningless and gravity does not rule. In these surreal landscapes, objects are possessed by the spirits of positive and negative emotions or are carried by hummingbird messengers to add further depth to the visual story. My paintings are honest reflections of how I perceive reality and my desire to acknowledge its harshness without sugar-coating its nature. My artworks are filled with “magic” but have nothing to do with “magical thinking”. The viewer is challenged to think rationally and humanely about social injustice rather than to accept religious perspectives and its dogma as fact. The goal is that my work will connect emotionally and intellectually with viewers, encouraging them to unmask the imagery to discover their symbolic essence and find personal meaning within.
Adapting to life in Memphis has been challenging, but I’m grateful for my ever-growing relationship with my partner, Cecil. We buoy each other through the rougher art waters of being gay artists in the Mid-South. To that end, I will continue to seek representation to build my presence as an artist in the Memphis community. I have begun to set personal and professional goals to become more involved in the LGBTQ community through my art.
If interested, you may find my work online at robertmoler.com or view my paintings on these Steller links: https://steller.co/s/8MYk4f6VCTw https://steller.co/s/8MGPaRkNjbb