Up Close with … Robyn Geddes

Former Warhol Protégé Shows New Paintings

Robyn Geddes
Paul Wellman

While he influenced nearly everyone, Andy Warhol has few genuine disciples. Painter Robyn Geddes, whose work is now on view at The Frameworks/Caruso-Woods Gallery, was an assistant to Warhol from 1978 to 1983 and then a gallery director and artist in New York before moving to Santa Barbara in the late 1990s. Although his work does not resemble Warhol’s in an overt way—Geddes paints more in the manner of R. B. Kitaj or David Hockney—he nevertheless manages to project a bemused wonder and wide-eyed sophistication that’s a dead ringer for the lightly ironic tone of Warhol at his best. Having passed through a phase in which he mostly painted birds in a style suggesting postmodern chinoiserie, Geddes has now arrived at a powerful new synthesis, making him one of the most interesting and ambitious painters of 2010. With this show at Frameworks and another upcoming in January 2011 at the Granary Art Gallery in Weston Park, Shropshire, U.K., Geddes is poised to become a major figure in contemporary art.

Take the painting “Ted & Helen Geisel, La Jolla 1948,” for example. It shows the author of the Dr. Seuss books and his wife lounging on a sofa and contemplating their idyllic life in a Victorian mansion. Both figures are draped in white bathrobes, and their heads are those of birds. Above them float visions of Seuss’s creations, the whimsical fantasies that will support their lavish California lifestyle for decades to come. The picture combines deliberate irreverence with dazzling painterly technique and an underlying sense of otherworldliness that seems half observed and half imposed by the artist. Geddes carries this mode through several more deliciously ironic imagined scenarios that include such figures as Ike and Mamie Eisenhower, Reginald Marsh and Robert Moses, and Mark Rothko, Thomas Church, and Adeline Kent.

Speaking of his transition from New York to Santa Barbara, Geddes admits to “shedding a tear upon exiting the Lincoln Tunnel,” but claims that life here has been good for him and for his work. The imaginary worlds he depicts are only separated from reality by a thin veil of exquisitely registered irony, and these paintings may prove to be among the most lasting of legacies from the Warhol Factory, where Geddes’s apprenticeship to an art career first began.

The Frameworks/Caruso-Woods Gallery is located at 813 Anacapa Street. Call 965-1812 for info and hours.


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