Second Sight – Mario Robinson’s “American Dream”
I began to ponder the state of our Union the week following Independence Day. The atmosphere here on the Jersey shore was rife with rigorous celebrations, including barbecues, excessive crowds on the boardwalk and fireworks on the beach. I was going through some issues in my personal life and began to ask the question, “What exactly is the American Dream?” The word “dream” has always troubled me, as people have often defined my career in the field of fine art as “living my dream.” My personal view of my daily existence is far from a dream. In reference to the American dream, it appears to be a fluid concept. If we’re honest, many of our institutions, laws, and systems are flawed and certain members of our society prosper despite their personal mediocrity.
I began to sketch ideas, which would synthesize my feelings toward the great experiment we call a democratic society. The imagery in the composition is purposeful. The pinnacle of the “dream” is home ownership. I am sitting in my front yard with the front of my house in the background. The American flag looms eerily behind me, seemingly floating without any support. I’m a New York Yankee fan and nothing is closer to religion in this country than America’s favorite pastime-baseball. Finally, I’m lounging in my beach chair, while my expression is far from relaxed. My aim was to raise questions rather than to make loud statements about the subject. I believe we all have our personal thoughts about what the American dream is and whether or not we’re truly living it.
The American Dream is the ideal that every U.S. citizen should have an equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity through hard work, determination, and initiative. Without walking through every injustice throughout American history, I’ll just mention that the individual who drafted the Declaration of Independence was a slave owner. Just under half of the writers of the Constitution were also slave owners. The institution of slavery lasted 246 years in what eventually became the United States of America. I went back to come forward. The idea that the American Dream is the only reality negates the experiences of generations of people of color, who may define their existence as the American nightmare. The United States of America has passed laws to protect the rights of its citizens. The amendments to the Constitution have brought us to a higher moral ground. The residue of our history still muddies the water. My painting reflects my personal journey. I love my country and the freedoms we enjoy. I cannot speak for anyone else or tell my fellow citizens how to navigate the American experience. My aim is to spark an honest conversation devoid of slogans, myths, and mistruths. My state of mind is largely introspective. I don’t thrive in large crowds or chaos. In a world where distractions are being justified, I long for a bygone era when you could sit in a room or a front porch without “plugging in” or being stimulated by the light of a screen or the “all important” chime that indicates a notification.
Andrew Wyeth’s work and career have inspired me immensely. I believe viewers approach my work from a myriad of angles. Whether it’s an aging family member or distinctly American architecture, the people and places in our lives conjure distinct emotions depending on the person viewing the work and where they are in their lives. The subjects I choose to paint are highly personal. I’m constantly in search of universal truths within the imagery. I want the subject matter in my work to feel familiar to viewers on a subconscious level. I admire Wyeth’s ability to avoid the trap of painting “pretty pictures” by looking for the deeper meaning in his subjects. His work challenges us to look beyond aesthetic beauty on the surface. He paints the soul!
I admire living artists such as Bo Bartlett, Henry Casselli, Dean Mitchell, Burton Silverman. Stephen Scott Young. These artists paint in the American Tradition. They concern themselves with daily life in America. The tradition includes masters such as Winslow Homer, Andrew Wyeth, Thomas Eakins, etc.