Orlando artist and UCF professor Robert Rivers takes home this year’s top honors in OMA’s ‘Florida Prize’ exhibition | Visual Arts | Orlando

Robert Rivers is still in shock. A great befuddlement, but nevertheless. The longtime Maitland resident and UCF professor of art — grading for the semester finished mere minutes ahead of Orlando Weekly rings him — just days in the past took home the top honors in this year’s Florida Prize in Modern day Art exhibition-cum-levels of competition at the Orlando Museum of Artwork.

It is really really worth mentioning also that this is the quite initially yr that two local artists walked away with equally the Florida Prize and the People’s Alternative award — which went to painter Matthew Cornell.

“I was extremely, quite stunned,” says Rivers of staying named the winner at the opening reception for the Florida Prize exhibition. Considering back again to the collecting of pals, colleagues and even his brother (a lot more on that in a second), he can only call it an “enchanted evening.”

And however Rivers has exhibited his perform all around the planet — together with displays in Washington, D.C., and Edinburgh, Scotland — this individual display feels quite a bit more individually exclusive.

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  • Robert Rivers, ‘The Promised Land’ (2010 – existing) blended media drawings on watercolor paper, 66 x 30 in. (each and every) Courtesy of the artist. Picture © Stephen Allen Pictures
  • Robert Rivers, ‘The Promised Land’ (depth)

The yearly Florida Prize team exhibition provides together the crème de la crème of working towards new and mid-occupation artists in the state. Just about every year sees OMA crammed with bleeding-edge creativeness throughout genre — installations, images, portray, conceptual artwork and, in Rivers’ scenario, towering, dizzying blended-media illustrations that build a surreal, at moments nightmarish otherspace.

This is “The Promised Land,” a series of 69 panels — every single about 5 feet tall and 30 inches wide — that alongside one another generate a spectacular eyesight spanning 180 feet in length, annexing an whole massive wall of OMA in two rows. The physically significant panels that make up “The Promised Land” (231 in all) have been occupying a great amount of innovative and literal serious estate in Rivers’ life for about a decade now.

“The Promised Land” started as some thing extremely distinctive than the big hyperreality scroll that it is now. An early starting off level was a landscape that Rivers was producing for his brother as a tribute to Rivers’ nephew — a Maritime killed in Afghanistan in 2010 — but shortly it turned anything quite various: an ongoing series of illustrations that have preoccupied Rivers for many years. What potentially started out as a means of processing grief has kaleidoscoped outward into a new visual mythology.

“The working day that I uncovered out Thomas got killed I came dwelling and did a drawing that started off ‘The Promised Land’ drawings. It was a 22-by-30 inch drawing that type of encapsulated the concept. The picture for the soldier would be just a white T-shirt, army fatigues, boots and haircut. The very first kinds were being very much about the troopers, groupings of soldiers,” states Rivers. “And then I required to do anything for my brother. We recovered a picture of my nephew from his digital camera, and it was him with his gun within a Humvee, and he had two large poppy flowers in his hand. He’s keeping his gun up with these big bouquets. So I started off considering about executing a set of landscapes, type of a haiku the place I might have the mountains, I would have the poppies, and then I would have an explosion. And it would just be a set of landscapes … from time to time the poppies would be the dominant function of the portray, at times the mountain would be the dominant aspect, and in some cases the explosion would be the dominant characteristic.”

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  • Robert Rivers, ‘The Promised Land’ (2010-existing) mixed media drawings on watercolor paper, 66 x 30 in. (every single) Courtesy of the artist. Graphic © Stephen Allen Photography
  • Robert Rivers, ‘The Promised Land’ (depth)

On the day that Orlando Weekly and Rivers spoke on the telephone, he stated a new “Promised Land” panel that he is presently performing on. “I have hardly ever felt the urge to complete. I am just not that sensible,” claims Rivers half-jokingly of his course of action. “Significantly, I have buddies that are really clever, and they can believe their way out of a portray prior to they complete it. I have hardly ever been that way.”

Having in the towering rows of panels that constitute “The Promised Land” is a spectacular experience just as remarkable as the sheer sizing and scale is the obsessive layering of depth crammed into each individual inch of every single panel of watercolor paper. The artwork is a blended-media hurry of frenzied creativeness, with repeating motifs and pictures impatiently drawn and repainted suitable above just one an additional. Strolling again and forth, taking in the rows, the viewer notices new components every solitary time. Cubism operates headlong into surrealism and generation myths, visions of the many hells and afterlifes across religions and time, and sobering anti-war allegories exactly where unhappy-eyed soldiers, their wounds even now contemporary, journey by a nightmarish … limbo? Valhalla? Purgatory? Ghoulish figures, devils, severed limbs, coiled and ravenous snakes and visceral bloodstains look regularly, rendered with intricate, abstract, restless depth — you can often see the “initial acquire” flickering beneath the paint in faint pencil — the tactics of sketchbooks, portray, draft and collage collide on the walls.

There are moments of respite and quiet in the series — a girl keeping her sleeping boy or girl — but this is a do the job preoccupied with humanity’s inhumanity toward both of those alone and the all-natural planet around it. Professor Robert Croker likened it to “a rumination on dying in standard, by violence in particular.”

At occasions, “The Promised Land” can sense like an inventive Rorschach take a look at, with no two viewers looking at the similar point. We saw hints of and companionship with the functions of Hieronymus Bosch, Ralph Steadman, the Bayeux Tapestry, Great World, Nick Blinko, da Vinci’s sketchbooks and Brion Gysin’s and William Burroughs’ collaborative visible reduce-ups. You can expect to likely see one thing entirely diverse.

For his element, Rivers eagerly shares the influences that guided him to “The Promised Land.” He speaks of the Renaissance-period painting “The Tempest” by Giorgione, as a lot for its themes — a young soldier struck down by the cruel randomness of war — as to what is, really pretty much beneath the paint.

“They X-rayed underneath exactly where the younger soldier was,” he clarifies, “and it was two gals. Which is type of like how my operate evolves. It starts off off with a single strategy and then evolves into some thing else. So occasionally the strategy actually comes from what transpires in the image, as it evolves, instead of me declaring, ‘Here’s what this image usually means.'”

Rivers also talks effusively about the influence of Mauricio Lasansky’s anti-fascist The Nazi Drawings, Goya’s “The Disasters of War” and Indian miniatures (“one particular of my greatest influences”) initial noticed on a journey to the Hayward Gallery in London decades back again. These identical Indian miniatures moved him to make use of a pink pencil in his drawings, now a single of his most trustworthy instruments.

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Robert Rivers, 'The Promised Land' (detail) - ROBERT RIVERS, 'THE PROMISED LAND' (2010-PRESENT) MIXED MEDIA DRAWINGS ON WATERCOLOR PAPER, 66 X 30 IN. (EACH) COURTESY OF THE ARTIST. IMAGE © STEPHEN ALLEN PHOTOGRAPHY

  • Robert Rivers, ‘The Promised Land’ (2010-current) mixed media drawings on watercolor paper, 66 x 30 in. (each and every) Courtesy of the artist. Picture © Stephen Allen Photography
  • Robert Rivers, ‘The Promised Land’ (depth)

His working process is just that of constant generation. “I have never experienced a dry spell, I have under no circumstances experienced writer’s block,” Rivers suggests. “In faculty meetings, I just attract the total time. In some cases I’ll set down 4 or five suggestions. … And it can be in no way bothered me to do the identical impression around and in excess of and more than yet again, practically like getting a desire that you have over and around once more and it improvements slightly each individual time.”

Rivers’ drawings are executed quickly and continually, in solitude (“I’m in my Marlene Dietrich stage,” he deadpans) — in particular now with a modified easel created by his stepson in which 3 panels at a time can be mounted. This at any time-developing entire body of function has been stuffed into each individual crack and crevice of Rivers’ home. “I stack them and stack them in the guest bedrooms, I stack them underneath the pool desk,” claims Rivers. “I have got these things all over the place.”

Even with having invested so considerably time, sweat equity, unlimited red pencils and “gallons of gloss media” into “The Promised Land,” Rivers was remarkably easygoing about the procedure of last but not least acquiring these drawings up on show for the initial time, eager to relinquish command. Some of his college students even pitched in to help with the installation.

“I was like, ‘Oh these lousy people today, they are likely to be overwhelmed by all this stuff.’ But we experienced a good time. … We’re all going for walks all around curating these panels, laying them out in order, and Hansen [Mulford, OMA chief curator] and Coralie [Claeysen-Gleyzon, associate curator] are saying, ‘OK, let’s try out to create the row.’ And then Hansen reported, ‘Let’s make it a double row, so we can place twice as much in there!’ I have by no means noticed it all with each other, not laid out at one time like this. Coralie and Hansen did an fantastic work. They are just excellent individuals to perform with. I informed them, ‘When do I get to toss my New York artist tantrum?’ [laughs] I was seeking to set a truly fantastic instance to my learners about being simple to get the job done with, not finding upset, just owning a very good time with it.”

Claeysen-Gleyzon described the troopers in “The Promised Land” eloquently as “guides via the underworld,” according to Rivers, but the artist himself has a slightly distinctive journey or path for us to look at.

click to enlarge
Robert Rivers, 'The Promised Land' (detail) - ROBERT RIVERS, 'THE PROMISED LAND' (2010-PRESENT) MIXED MEDIA DRAWINGS ON WATERCOLOR PAPER, 66 X 30 IN. (EACH) COURTESY OF THE ARTIST. IMAGE © STEPHEN ALLEN PHOTOGRAPHY

  • Robert Rivers, ‘The Promised Land’ (2010-existing) blended media drawings on watercolor paper, 66 x 30 in. (just about every) Courtesy of the artist. Impression © Stephen Allen Images
  • Robert Rivers, ‘The Promised Land’ (element)

“I don’t know if you have ever go through Gravity’s Rainbow?” he asks. “That was the very good detail about possessing Hansen and Coralie pick out this. It truly is out of buy. The significant drawing is out of sequence. … We may possibly do 10 panels in a row, and then it shifts really dramatically to like 20 panels down the street. And I was really happy [to see it]. It gave me a sensation of peace, since I have generally been like, ‘How am I at any time heading to show this matter? How am I likely to get it all up on the wall?’ All of a unexpected, it reads extremely effectively, just like looking at Gravity’s Rainbow, exactly where the guide does not make substantially feeling as much as telling the story, for every se, but it can be written so wonderfully. You can choose the guide up at any area, and just commence to read, and it can make about as a lot perception looking through that way as it does reading through it from front to back again. You happen to be still left with this type of baffled aspiration.”

Might all our dreams — and nightmares — be this baffled.

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