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Robertson, Prophet Royalfree

American, 20th century, male.

Born 1930, in St Mary’s Parish (Louisiana); died 1997 in Houston (Texas).

Painter. Visionary paintings, drawings.

Outsider Art, Folk Art, Self-Taught Art.

Prophet Royal Robertson attended school through the eighth grade, after which he travelled west and worked as a field hand and sign painter. Sometime in the 1950s he returned to Louisiana to care for his ailing mother. Upon his return, he married a woman named Adell in 1955 and together they had 11 children. Twenty years later, after the couple divorced due to Robertson’s suspicion that Adell had been unfaithful, he turned to making art as a means of coping with the loss of his marriage.

As a self-taught artist, Robertson is associated with Outsider Art, or art outside of the fine art tradition. He used materials that he could easily acquire, drawing on poster board, scrap plywood, and Masonite: mediums that could be purchased at most drugstores. His work is concerned with personal experiences and visions of the supernatural, as well as messages that he claimed had been sent to him by God since his early teen years. The end of his marriage to Adell served as a turning point in his artistic practice, becoming an overwhelming obsession in the artist’s life and art. The interior and exterior of his home in Baldwin, Louisiana, were covered with handmade signs on poster board, marked on both sides with Conté crayons, felt markers, enamel, and occasionally glitter. They contained references to the Bible, girlie magazines, comic strips, and science fiction. Many of the messages he conveyed from God alluded to misdeeds and adultery, warning the world about the evils of women. They included texts such as ‘No Foolish Rapies Adultrous Allowed’ and ‘All Nasty Adell And Dope Pusher Man Nasty Boys Keep Off’. They generated a concealed territory that rejected the outside world, warding away whores, prostitutes, drug pushers, evildoers, and even the FBI.

Robertson claimed to have made several out-of-body trips where he visited alien galaxies and perfect, utopian cities. His later work evolved into more elaborate artworks that included detailed futuristic imagery heavily outlined and set against contrasting colours and excessive text. Many record the frequent visions that transported him to the past or the future, depicting aliens, fantastic modes of transportation, futuristic space cities, and architectural marvels. In Cute City Region, from 1989, he depicts modernistic buildings resembling the oil refineries and rigs in nearby Morgan City, Louisiana rising from an imagined landscape with a figure flying out of a window upwards towards the sky. The bottom portion of the drawing is filled with an inscription, a lament to his wife’s departure: ‘Oh, no love, now we haven’t nothing but to fly by us self alone.’ Many of his works employed the calendar motif. However, instead of listing dates associated with deadlines or social engagements, he wrote Bible verses and messages about his anger toward Adell. In 1993, Hurricane Andrew destroyed his home and most of his work, but with the help of two art collectors and hurricane relief from the federal government, he was able to rebuild his home, replete with signs, symbols, and shrines.

During his lifetime, his work was shown in a solo exhibition at Atrium Gallery at the University of Connecticut and in multiple major group exhibitions such as Passionate Visions of the American South: Self-Taught Artists from 1940 to the Present at the New Orleans Museum of Art. In 1997 Scott Ogden, artist and founder of Shrine Gallery in New York, visited him in his Baldwin home; years later, in 2011, Ogden released a documentary that recalls the lives of four American self-taught artists, including Robertson. In the same year, Ogden curated an exhibition at White Columns in New York titled Prophet Royal Robertson: NO PROUD BASTARDS. Since his death his work has been collected by the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Mississippi Museum of Art, and the Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science, and he has been featured in the Outsider Art Fair.

Group Exhibitions

1987, Baking in the Sun: Visionary Images from the South, University Art Museum, Lafayette, LA

1992, It’ll Come True: Eleven Artists, First and Last, Artist’s Alliance, Lafayette, LA

1993–1994, Passionate Visions of the American South: Self-Taught Artists from 1940 to the Present, New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans

1998, Error & Eros: Love Profane and Divine, American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore

2002, Eye of the World: Miniature and Microcosm in the Art of the Self Taught, Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA

2002, Visionaries, The Art Gallery at the Cleveland State University, Cleveland, OH

2003, Write On, Webb Gallery, Waxahachie, TX

2005, Future Primitive, One in the Other, London

2008, Évasion, Galerie Christian Berst (formerly Galerie Objet Trouvé), Paris

2009, Make, Ricco Maresca Gallery, New York

2009, Until the End of the World, AMP, Athens, GA

2010, Mutant Pop, Loyal, Malmö

2011, Gun & Knife Show, CentralTrak, Dallas

2011, Make, White Flag Projects, St Louis

2011, MAKE Skateboards, I-20 Gallery, New York

2011, You Better Be Listening, Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, Chicago

2013, Farfetched: Mad Science, Fringe Architecture and Visionary Engineering, Gregg Museum of Art and Design, Raleigh, NC

2013, Schriftblider. Voll geschrieben und somit beendet…, Galerie Susanne Zander, Cologne

2013, Seuls, Lille Métropole, Museum of Modern, Contemporary Outsider Art, Villeneuve d’Ascq, France

2014, Do the Write Thing Read between the Lines, Christian Berst Art Brut, New York

2014, The Outsiders, Galerie Grande Rue, Poitiers

2014, Planning the Future, Delmes & Zander, Berlin

2015, Adelhyd van bender, Das Atom ist unbesiegbar, Galerie Susanne Zander, Cologne

2015, Künstler der Galerie, Delmes & Zander, Cologne

2015, System and Vision, David Zwirner Gallery, New York

2016, Cell Series: Exile and Isolation, The Old Jail Art Center, Albany, TX

2016, Space Gospel, Galerie Christian Berst, Paris

2016, Underbrut, La Friche Belle de Mai, Marseille

2016, WAKE UP, GO OUT, WALK. SLOW DOWN… LOOK, HALT. LOOK AGAIN. Works from the Treger/Saint Silvestre Collection, Olivia Creative Factory, São João da Madeira, Portugal

Solo Exhibitions

1993, A Desperate Intensity of Vision: the Drawings of ‘Prophet’ Royal Robertson, Atrium Gallery, University of Connecticut, Storrs

2011, Prophet Royal Robertson: No Proud Bastards, White Columns, New York

2011, Vision Dream, Webb Gallery, Waxahachie, TX

2016, Prophet Royal Robertson: God the Creator, Atomic Bombs and Crazy Adell, Delmes & Zander, Berlin and Cologne

Museum and Gallery Holdings

Atlanta (High MA)

Beaumont (AM of Southeast Texas)

Birmingham (MA)

Dallas (African American Mus.)

Jackson (Mississippi MA): House of the Future (1986, mixed media on paper)

Lafayette (The University AM)

New York (American Folk Art Mus.)

New York (Ronald Feldman Gal.): I’m Talking to You, A Secret Garden: 3. . . (2005, installation, 32 glass containers and 32 spices)

Orlando (Mary Brogan Mus. of Art and Science)

Robersonville (St James Place Folk AM)

Rockford (AM)

Washington, DC (Smithsonian American AM): Altar Piece (c. 1970s–1980s, wood, paint, glitter, paper, and metal); The Vision of 1990 AD Aug. . . Thou Are but a Few that Escaped Earth (1990, mixed media on poster board); If Computers Fool Ya Baby (Two-Sided Piece, Calendar on Back) (paint and tape on poster board); Space Gun Drawing (pencil, marker, paint on paper)

Auction Records

Litchfield, 21 Nov 1992: A MIDNIGHT SUMMER SLEEP DREAMS (pen and ink, 28 × 22 ins/71.1 × 55.9 cm) USD 275; LET THOU (SIC) GOODNESS SHOW OUT TO GOD (pen, 28 × 22 ins/71.1 × 55.9 cm) USD 375; THEY ATE ADELL AND JACKY AND ROSA (pen, 28 × 22 ins/71.1 × 55.9 cm) USD 350

Paris, 29 March 2013: Mrs Queenade (c. 1985, acrylic on plywood, 64¼ × 13½ ins/163 × 34 cm) USD 14,020; 8 Men of Robbery (recto-verso) (c. 1990, marker and ballpoint pen on paper, 28 × 22 ins/71 × 55.5 cm) USD 3,133

Buford, 20 April 2013: Crusader (paint, marker, and glitter on paper board, 20 × 30 ins/76.2 × 50.8 cm) USD 650

Buford, 26 April 2014: I’m Created to Destroy Fornicate’s Adulterous Soul (1993, double-sided, paint, ink, and marker on poster, 28 × 22 ins/71.1 × 55.9 cm) USD 600

Paris, 29 Oct 2014: Sans Titre (Architecture 01) (double-sided, mixed media, 22 × 28 ins/56 × 71.2 cm) USD 1,973

Paris, 5 April 2017: SANS TITRE (CALENDRIER 01) (mixed media on cardboard, 28 × 22 ins/71 × 55.8 cm) USD 1,510

Bibliography

  • Baking in the Sun: Visionary Images from the South: Selections from the Collection of Sylvia and Warren Lowe, exhibition catalogue, University Art Museum, University of Southwestern Louisiana, Lafayette, 1987.
  • Yelen, Alice Rae: Passionate Visions of the American South: Self-Taught Artists from 1940 to the Present, New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, 1993.
  • Manley, Roger (ed.)/Sloan, Mark (ed.): Self-Made Worlds: Visionary Folk Art Environments, Aperture, New York, 1997.
  • Moses, Kathy: Outsider Art of the South, Schiffer Publishing, Atglen (PA), 1999.
  • Sellen, Betty-Carol/Johanson, Cynthia J.: Self Taught, Outsider, and Folk Art: A Guide to American Artists, Locations and Resources, McFarland, Jefferson (NC), 2000.
  • Allamel, Frédéric: ‘Sacred Spaces and Mythmaking: A Sociological Perspective on Southern Environmental Art’, in Sacred Spaces and Profane: Voice and Vision in Southern Self-Taught Art, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, 2004.
  • Congdon, Kristen G./Hallmark, Kara Kelley: American Folk Art: A Regional Reference, vol 1, ABC-CLIO, Santa Barbara (CA), 2012.