Accepting you are an Artist: The Realist Works of Robyn Lister

Just ahead of Focus LDN's Winter Exhibition Curator and Director of Focus LDN Tom Cox chats with Robyn Lister about her experiences as an artist.

What do you do?

I paint and I draw and I love to portray water and reflections.

What sparked your interest in painting?

I always loved it as a kid, I would always draw and colour with crayons and get my paints out. I can remember even up to teenage years, anywhere I went on family holidays I was always sketching, doodling and trying to copy things. People would give me positive feedback, so as a kid when you get positive feedback you keep doing it.

I put it all to one side when I got to high school, I got very nerdy and decided that I needed to get in to a really good university course that was going to give me a good job, so art went out of the window. I actually started again in my final year of school, and I did it for two weeks and then thought no. I really wanted to get into law and art was taking up too much of my time so I ditched it.

So you ended up studying law?

No actually, I got into law and then two weeks into university I thought I can’t be arsed with this, so I dropped out. My parents just about killed me and I went and worked as a sales person for a year, basically a gap year. Then I studied occupational therapy and I worked with the elderly for about nine years, did my masters and lectured in it and all the rest of it. One day my husband got an opportunity to move overseas with work, so we left and ended up in Vienna. The only language I had ever studied at school was German and I gave that up too, because I thought I would never need it! Everything was in German, so I couldn’t work; instead I got my pencils and I started drawing again.

That’s how I got back into it as an adult. It was a slow burner really, I did it for myself and hung a few paintings in my house. My friends would come around and say ‘oh, I really like that,’ so I thought maybe there was something to work with. I started to do a few artworks for friends and continued doing it for about seven or eight years. I ended up in India for five years and I got really involved in a local charity there and people, mostly expats, were buying my paintings. I needed a way to come up with a salary to feature in this charity that I was working with and I thought here it is; it was win, win. People started buying my art which was great because I loved doing it and I only had so much space! This way I could support the charity; it was a perfect mix of me needing to do something and wanting to do something - it all came together.

Three years ago I moved to the UK, and I wanted to continue supporting the charity so I continued selling my work. It took me a while to get into the groove here and find people that wanted to buy stuff. Now me and my husband are planning to stay, we are one of the weird Australians that immigrate this way.

For about eight years I was only doing commissions because that was what was going to bring the money in. I really enjoy replicating something and trying to get it the same; whether it is a photo or a building that I am looking at or someone’s face, for me the challenge and satisfaction at the end is if I can see that I have made it look as it is in reality - that’s what really excites me. People will give me a photo and say can you paint this in a certain size and medium – I love that challenge, and luckily so far people have been happy with it; at least to my face!

I’ve really enjoyed that but I am at the point now where I have had so many different things to paint that I have formed an idea of the things I like to represent personally. There are things I have been commissioned to do which I wouldn’t choose to do for myself and found out that I really like them as subjects.

What is it that you are interested in doing now that you have taken ownership of your artwork?

I really like doing realism and hyperrealism, I am really drawn to it and I love it. Reflections, water, droplets, seeing how an image we all know and recognise can be made in a different form. Having people come close up to something and say is that actually acrylic or is it a photo – I love that.

I have started doing a few more portraits in pencil and that is something I never thought I would do. If you do portraits for someone you have got to get it right, otherwise they will be massively insulted or it is a waste of time. I love focusing on eyes and wrinkles.

The intricacies and minute details?

I love to zoom in! I am always zooming.

So are you a perfectionist?

With this yes, with other things in my life not so much; my husband would tell you that I am not a perfectionist. This is the only thing that I do in which I completely lose track of time. I am still learning when to stop with a painting, even now with the things I have done for the exhibition I am really proud of, but I someone is going to have to tie my hands up over the weekend because I will still want to go in and do a couple more bits. Though if you keep doing that you start to go down the other side of the curve.

But yes, in this regard I am a perfectionist, especially if I am doing a commission for somebody. I feel very responsible for it and will want to do my very best because I am still amazed that someone will ask me to do something for them. It blows my mind that people want me to do that, and then you [Focus LDN] have allowed me to come and be a part of this.

London bus through raindrops, 2013. Acrylic on canvas. 61 x 61 cm

Where do you want to take your artwork in the next few years?

I guess I would love to be in a position where I can do a whole series of my own work and show it somewhere and have people actually want to come.

So a solo show?

Oh god, yes. I think I have always got in the back of my mind that I have done thing for fun and that I have lucked out to have the time to do it. I have been supported and haven’t had to do another job, I feel like I have been lucky because I am basically a housewife at home with the kid and I just like doing this; I never trained in it so I feel like a part of me, in the back of my head, is saying I am not professional so I can’t do that.

When you are in an arts degree half the time they don’t teach you formal training anyway, it’s more conceptual ideas as opposed to the actual practice, a lot of universities these days have come away from many technical aspects of teaching. When I was there they had a very loose conception of what formal training is, and I did a painting course.

I’ll give you a piece of advice that my dad said to me and he is not a painter, you are never going to feel like you are ready, you just have to do things, and you are so that’s great. You are an artist, that’s it. Just acknowledge that and don’t see yourself as an amateur artist or a student of art, if someone asks you what you are, you are an artist.

See I don’t even do that on the form on the plane when I land in Australia for my occupation… I probably could put it down.

You can! This is your second exhibition with Focus LDN now so you had better be an artist!

Strawberry in water: Coloured, 2016. Pencil on black paper. 43 x 53 cm

Strawberry in water: Coloured, 2016. Pencil on black paper. 43 x 53 cm

OK, I am now. That was actually a massive boost, and I looked around the exhibition [The Art of Regeneration] to see if anybody was looking at my stuff and a few people gave me some positive comments and I thought ‘oh wow and I am in the company of this amazing art.’

I would like to continue to do more challenging work, bigger canvases and also to do some murals. We had a very flexible landlord when we lived in Prague and I asked if I could paint the walls. His vision of me painting the walls was probably changing the colour…  I did a whole load of murals and It was really good fun. People would come over and give comments like ‘oh wow who did you get to do that?’ I would say ‘I did that.’ I’d like to do a few more of those things too! 

Robyn Lister's artworks will be exhibited in Focus LDN's 2016 Winter Exhibition.

For free tickets to the private view please click here!