Robert Cantor
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Robert Cantor

Sharpener Images/Tacky Treasures

A household collection of tacky figurines and fun pencil sharpeners are the inspiration for these still life oil paintings. Using traditional realistic technique to paint "portraits" of these playful figures, I relish the opportunity to create beautiful works of art combining serious craftsmanship with amusing irony. By treating trivial subjects with an exaggerated reverence, the paintings themselves become the precious objects worthy of that reverence.

I had been collecting pencil sharpeners for many years before first making a painting of one. I started out collecting them as souvenirs, but my interest eventually expanded to sharpeners of all kinds and I now have over 800 in my collection. Both my wife and I have always been interested in collecting many other fun figures as well.

The idea of painting my favorites developed slowly as various influences helped me arrive at a suitable approach. The most significant of these were three shows which took place from 2001 to 2003. The first was an Impressionist still life exhibition where I first saw the still life paintings of Camille Pissarro and was very taken with his subtle use of color. The second was a show of the Sherwood Collection of Botanical Illustration, where the featured artists demonstrated the ability to see great wonder in the smallest details of the natural world while creating beautiful works of art through their careful manipulation of composition. The third was an exhibition of the Index of American Design, in which stunning works of art were created out of deceptively simple-appearing archival depictions of traditional craft objects. These led me to the approach which would get me started, but my treatment of these subjects quickly moved in directions I couldn't have originally anticipated.

I like to think of the paintings as portraits, each one drawing on the unique personality of the subject to show it in the most flattering manner. There are three goals common to each work in the series: to create a beautiful composition, to attain a high degree of realism, and to give the sharpeners life and personality. The portrait is a success when these odd artifacts of modern consumer society actively gaze back at the real world, boldly confronting the viewer with the absurdity of their own existence.

My working method combines traditional oil painting techniques with modern tools. The planning phase takes place largely on the computer after taking numerous reference photographs. A basic outline of the composition is transferred to a panel and work begins on the background and grisaille (monochrome painting of the subject). Many layers of transparent glazes (using an alkyd based medium) gradually build up the color to the desired level of intensity and finish. When completed, the traditional glazing technique gives the work a wonderful inner glow and depth of color. Because I build up the painting in many small increments, it usually takes several months to complete. I typically have anywhere from 4-8 paintings simultaneously in progress at my home studio.

The pencil sharpener and tacky toy paintings have appeared in many national juried shows and won several awards. My formal training, which focused more on drawing than painting, has come from classes at the Northern Virginia Community College, the Art League School of Alexandria (Torpedo Factory), and the many instructional books I've worked my way through.

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Copyright by Robert Cantor
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