Justin Robertson is not a planner. The varied roles in his career portfolio have come about unintentionally for the British DJ-remixer-producer-visual artist-novelist.
“The psychologist James Hillman would call it, ‘The intervention of my daimon,'” says Robertson. “I call it ‘luck.'”
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The London-based Robertson’s 30+ years in music began because one of the employees was fired while he was standing at the counter in a record shop— Robertson was hired in their place, turning his pastime into his profession. His beginnings as a visual artist—which he initially only did as a form of relaxation—are not dissimilar.
“As you get older, the music world becomes stranger,” says Robertson of his early forays into the art world. “As the audience gets younger, in some ways, you question your relevance. I still love making music, and I still feel like I’ve got something to add to the conversation, but I feel like there are other avenues I could explore where I can discuss what I want to discuss differently. Doing art was one of those.”
It wasn’t Robertson’s intention to exhibit any of his work. A “catastrophic technological failure” rendered his music studio non-functional for a few weeks. During that time, Robertson completed several paintings which coalesced into a unified narrative. He showed them to a friend with a gallery who offered him an exhibition titled “Everything is Turbulence.”
“Everything is Turbulence” is complimentary to Robertson’s 2015 album of the same name and focuses on the theme of “the possibilities of imagination.” His subsequent exhibitions use the same approach where Robertson explores an idea, topic, issue, or philosophical question, creating paintings connected to that central concept.
“The Explorer’s Chronicles,” his varied, sometimes figurative follow-up collection in 2016, revolves around the theme of “imagined sketches found in an artist’s loft from a far-flung dimension.” Regarding the theme of 2018’s geometric “It’s Alive” and last year’s circle-centric “When the Dark is Light Enough,” Robertson says, “Objects around you are alive. How you interact with them affects their presence on you and your psyche.”
His 2019 abstract collection “Alone” started when Robertson’s father died as a way for him to deal with his grief. “The fact that both my parents were dead was a really strange feeling that comes to all of us at some stage,” says Robertson. “It took me by surprise. The collection grew out of that, and it became a discussion on the pros and cons of solitude and how in those moments of solitude, you can get some brilliant ideas.”
Mixed media is the broad term for Robertson’s work which goes through several stages before it’s completed. “I’ll make a painting or a drawing,” he explains. “I hone in on a particular section and photograph it. I process that photograph and bring out all of the patterns in it, print it out, paint it, photograph it again, bounce it in and out until I find these weird patterns that were hiding inside the original painting.”
This method of exploration of the hidden aspects of the images is what Robertson uses for the illustrations he’s working on for his upcoming supernatural horror novel, “The Tangle.” The Tangle is set for a fall release, at which point he is looking forward to returning to the tranquility of art galleries.
Clothing stores, private members’ clubs, bars, and hotels are among some of the locations that have hosted Robertson’s exhibitions, in addition to galleries all over Europe, including the famous Pikes Ibiza that staged his “Maps, Signs, and Sigils.” He also hosts multiple-day events incorporating all aspects of his portfolio career, such as his Gathering Atoms event.
“I often try to work with places where people might come across your work where they might not normally see it,” says Robertson. “They may not choose to come into an exhibition, but they’re passing through. I like to try and get them to see the exhibition that way.”
During the pandemic, Robertson has been giving virtual talks discussing his individual pieces on his IGTV channel. “I like the atmosphere of being in the presence of pictures of seeing how other people react to them, either positive or negative,” Robertson says. “Those works generate a feeling around them, which is quite hard to pick up on the internet.
“I quite often do The Other Art Fair in London,” he continues. “In your head, you’ve got your little spiel about what your paintings are all about. People who see them say something completely different. And you think, ‘That wasn’t my intention at all, but that is a much better way of describing it.’ You make something, and it goes out and has a life of its own that you had nothing to do with when you sent it out into the world.”