The Biggs Museum of American Art will show “Michael Robear: New Discoveries” beginning Nov. 6 with an opening reception. For most of his life, the painter has been quietly producing unique watercolors that reinvent his home of Cecil County, Maryland, into an iconography of clashing forces and surreal forms.
Despite the inherent fragility of watercolor paints on paper, Robear has always aligned himself with a rugged individualism seemingly shared by other better-known watercolorists such as Winslow Homer, John Marin and especially Andrew Wyeth. Robear grew into adulthood sketching and believing one day he would become a wildlife artist. By studying the artists his family appreciated, Robear emulated painters such as Robert Bateman, the printmakers of Ducks Unlimited and the illustrators featured in Outdoor Life.
With early support by educators and family, Robear was accepted into the Corcoran School of Art. At the age of 17, he was living in Washington, D.C., thrust into the legacy of the Washington Color School and studying with leading contemporary artists such as Robert Stackhouse. Despite the impressive influences of abstract painters in Robear’s formal education, his personal style has always been naturalistic. His admiration for Brandywine Illustrators such as Howard Pyle and N.C. Wyeth tied him aesthetically to the most luminary members of that realist tradition. Robear’s evolution from this precedent manifests in a heightened sense of fantasy. Maryland’s landscape, his home life, the early-American houses and a profound moral core are animated through folding horizons, anthropomorphic atmosphere and splintering architectural elements.
Upon returning to Cecil County, Robear started a family, worked in construction and painted whenever he was able. His skills in carpentry enabled him to renovate older, often dilapidated farmhouses that dotted the landscape of his childhood. Before long, his exceptional skills earned him work reproducing historic metalwork, especially the domestic hardware of the 18th and 19th centuries. The artist built a metal smithing studio while expanding his abilities.
The techniques he learned in metalwork were quickly absorbed into making singular frames for his watercolors. “Michael Robear: New Discoveries” will be on view in the Biggs Museum third-floor galleries until Jan. 10. Robear and curator, Ryan Grover, on Jan. 9 to give a lecture and workshop on Jan. 9 about the history and use of egg-tempera painting, a medium the artist is currently exploring. For more information, visit www.biggsmuseum.org.