Robin Rhode: More than just a Scribble
The idea of drawing on walls is something that would make a mother angry at her three year old child, but it can also be viewed as the beginning to a professional artist’s story. Sure, your baby taking an assortment of Crayola crayons and coloring on your newly painted walls can be frustrating, but we may want to think twice before dismissing the child’s picture – what if later in life, that child grows up to become a great graffiti artist? Graffiti, like all other types of art, can be very subjective. Though the idea of subjectivity in art can be intimidating, it doesn’t sway the thoughts and messages that Robin Rhode, a South African graffiti artist, puts into his work. Rhode strongly believes in the story’s messages that he portrays within his art style to give his work some sort of purpose for his audience.
Rhode was born in 1976 in Cape Town, South Africa and grew into creativity and art at a very young age. Even though he began to see art as a child, it wasn’t until high school that something inside him clicked and he really began to appreciate the art “wall drawing.” In an interview at the Culture City Theatre, Rhode tells critics, “In many ways I kind of embrace the siege mentality of the street artist. And the street is somehow like these blank pages of a book that needs to tell a story. It’s like a story that hasn’t been told and these pages are blank on the street walls and someone needs to write the story and tell these stories and I’m just a narrator.” He continued with this mentality all through high school where he created graffiti on a regular basis. When he reached the college level, he attended the South African School of Film, Television, and Dramatic Arts located in Johannesburg. He incorporated his newfound knowledge from school into his own art of graffiti and created multiple pieces that resemble his style. Instead of focusing on the quality of the art piece, a lot of his work revolves around the imagination of the story. With this in mind, he is able to make simple shapes resemble exquisite works of art. Once Rhode grew as an artist with the information he received, he left for Berlin, Germany where he truly began his career as a graffiti artist.
Rhode’s art is different than traditional graffiti because he uses different techniques like photography sequences and imagined storytelling that are utilized by animation studios to get that rhythm and continuity that he wants when making his work. He believes that the way that he has learned how to create his art is similar for the majority of the arts. Instead of just using chalk and paint to give his viewers a taste of what he believes in, he uses the way of photographers and filmmakers to add to the realism and structure of the message. When he creates his art, people can immediately differentiate his artwork from other artists because of the obvious differences, and Rhode takes pride in his background in the dramatic arts. Rhode uses simple narrative elements and storyboarding from the film industry throughout his drawings. It’s just one of the reasons that his work has been gaining worldwide popularity lately.
Rhode launched his first major solo museum project in 2007 in Germany at the famous, non-collecting art museum, Haus der Kunst, with the show entitled Walk Off. On display, there were over five hundred different projects that he had created over time ranging from oil paintings to dance performances. Beforehand, he had some earlier solo shows like an exhibition at Perry Rubenstein Gallery in New York, three years prior. There was also several other art projects on display at several galleries and art performances that took place in cities like Tokyo, Japan, Madrid, Spain and London, just to name a few. It’s obvious that he has had a lot of success since he began to draw at a young age. With art performances all over the world, Rhode has shown himself as a renown and international sensation among the art community.
Many of the artist’s works are encoded with South African distinctions from street gangs and certain aspects of economics. There are over 130 street gangs in Cape Town, a popular city in South Africa, alone. Rhode is a person to look among the gangs and incorporate the messages that he wants into his art. Gang signs and their tendencies play an important part in his work because they show what happens when the gangs are not regulated. As for economics, the economy is at a low in the South African district and the artist makes it abundantly clear that he desires change. By displaying the horrible monetary problems in his hometown through his art, he Rhode is able to portray the dangers of complacency. He, as well as many others, know that something has to be done to change the ways of South Africa and if Rhode is able to inspire just a couple of people into doing something about the numerous problems, then his art performances were a success.
Rhode hasn’t just dabbled in performance art – it’s also one of his largest collections. While he is widely known for his street art, Rhode has performed several interesting pieces that feature the same messages and morals embedded in his 2-D visual pieces. The performance art just adds more realism as a 3-D piece.One of his most famous pieces is Car Theft, a performance where Rhode, dressed as a hooded individual, would draw a car on the wall and attempt to break into it using various objects like bricks. This gained the attention of many individuals when it was shown in 2003. It wasn’t just the art style that Rhode used throughout the presentation, but it was also the several messages like social inequality and poverty that were intertwined as well. In performances like these, the artist is able to show of one of his specialties which is using illusions and “sleight of hand” to make two-dimensional objects come in contact with three-dimensional ones. Just one of his audience appealing tricks is using rhythmic patterns with the wall art and body motions. Rhode has created an abundance of art that many find enjoyable, the last as recent as late 2013. Whether he’s using chalk, paint or charcoal to make his piece, he brings valuable and inspirational art for his audience to enjoy.