Frank d. robinson, jr. is a Memphis native, obtaining his BFA from the University of Memphis before completing his MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He was also active in the noted summer youth-mural program led by George Hunt and Charles Davis locally in the early 1980’s, and was later a member of the NIA artist’s collective. A prolific painter, he is the artist-in-residence at Caritas Village where he teaches classes.
Robinson describes himself as a ’recyclist’, able to turn anything he finds into art. His work on the banners demonstrates his mixed media collage method and socially motivated approach to art making. While working at a charter school he would find garbage in the parking lot when he arrived each morning. He decided to make art from what would normally be discarded, teaching the children to transform bad situations into positive experiences by “turning trash into treasure.”
Frank first fell into using these unwanted items while living in Washington, DC. “I wasn’t thinking about recycling… I just didn’t have any money.”
He is a storyteller of an unconventional variety. Using debris found in every day life, things that most people overlook, frank creates chaotically controlled portraits. Looking at the portraits, it’s hard not to come up with some sort of narrative about the subjects. They are covered in discarded labels, hair combs, bottle caps. Frank’s approach was perhaps initially out of convenience but the pieces, filled with labels and items that our consumerist society is overridden with, carried a message that was impossible not to read and so, he ran with it.
And the pieces are in fact kind of chaotic, typically filled with a single figure surrounded by bright colors, words and thoughts penned by frank himself and labels that we see in every day life.
The connectedness of every human story, the small and quiet similarities in all of us are what many search for, we need to feel that we are not so alone and our story is shared. Frank’s goal is to carry the story and cause the viewer to relate. “I want to make you feel something; if it’s sad, I’m doing my job… all stories aren’t happy ever after. They always tell the story of the couple, ending happy, walking hand in hand into the sunset but they never tell what happens after… it’s messy.”
The work of frank d. robinson, jr. can be seen all over Memphis but it’s born out of the heart of Binghampton, just across the street from Caritas. Nearly every day, frank’s funky VW can be seen parked in front of the studio across the street or he might be hanging out in a booth at Caritas, sketching and collecting stories from the many different people that visit every day. He is a carrier of hope, he is a carrier of strength, and his voice, embodied through painting, speaks the stories of all that he meets. It truly is an honor to have such a powerful presence with us at Caritas… and we are so grateful for the stories shared.