Robert Cantor
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Robert Cantor

Sharpener Images

My personal collection of figurative pencil sharpeners and other toys are the subject matter for this series of paintings. Using traditional realistic technique to paint portraits of these playful subjects, I relish the opportunity to create beautiful works of art combining serious craftsmanship with amusing irony. By treating these odd artifacts of modern consumer culture with an exaggerated reverence, the paintings themselves become the precious objects worthy of that reverence.

I had been collecting toy pencils sharpeners for many years before the idea of using them as subjects ever occurred to me. I started out collecting them as souvenirs, but my interest eventually expanded to toy sharpeners of all kinds and I now have over 800 in my collection. The idea of painting my favorites developed slowly as various influences helped me formulate a suitable approach and I completed my first pencil sharpener painting in 2003. Pleased with the success of my initial efforts and having discovered a vast supply of potential subjects from on-line auctions, I have turned this into a body of work which continues to be my primary focus.

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 inexpensive toys actively gaze back at the real world, boldly confronting the viewer with the absurdity of their own existence.

My working method combines traditional techniques with modern tools and materials. The planning phase takes place largely on the computer, where scanned drawings and digital photographs provide the basis for experimenting with various layouts and color combinations. The painting starts with the a grisaille, a monochrome painting of the subject, and this is followed by transparent oil glazes which 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.

The most significant of the influences which led me to create this series of paintings are 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. Since those beginnings, however, my pencil sharpener paintings have moved beyond these influences and have taken on a life of their own, moving me in new and exciting directions.

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Copyright 2012 by Robert Cantor
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