We first learned of artist Robert Deyber when we visited the Housatonic Trading Company in Bantam. Store owner Robert Graham presented us with neighboring artist Robert Deyber’s huge coffee table book, “Figures of Speech,” and we couldn’t get enough of it. We spent hours leafing through the pages, playing guess-the-phrase. Robert’s paintings are fun and entertaining, and as told on his website, his style has been described as both “kitsch and absurdist.” We just know we love!
Robert takes commonly used phrases/sayings/euphemisms that we’ve all heard at some point or another and adds his own clever twist. Once you figure out his spin on the English language, you too can become quite fluent!
We were honored to go and spend some time with Robert at his private studio located in the Switch Factory building in Bantam; giving us a chance to ask our many questions, and of course, bring along our treasured books for him to sign.
Recently completed, this is “The Drug War”
How long does it take to complete one of your paintings?
People expect you to give a number, but I’ve never done one painting from start to finish because of the ADD thing. I’m literally working on between 15 and 20 sometimes 30 paintings at once. I have to jump around.
Are you quite a regimented painter? Are you here every day?
Every day of the work week. My whole life is painting.
Were you schooled in painting?
I took courses. I grew up in Greenwich, CT, and right next door in Purchase, NY, they opened SUNY, and it immediately got rave reviews. So I asked my father (if I could go) and he said absolutely not. He wanted to pay for business classes. So, I went to business school and snuck in some art courses here and there. I took perspective and figurative drawing. I’m pretty much self-taught.
How did you get hooked up with the distinguished Martin Lawrence Gallery? (America’s premier gallery of fine art FYI!)
I was doing fine on my own, selling from my own website privately, and right at the same time Tom Petty contacted me and told me he’d been secretly collecting my work, and wanted me to design an album cover for him. He and his wife have 6 paintings or so.
We had already signed up for this thing called the NY International Art Expo. You get a booth and spend around fifty grand. This man came up to my booth and left his business card, it was Chalk & Vermilion.
Over the course of a few years, I’d sent some of my slides to various galleries, some to the Martin Lawrence Gallery, but I’d never heard back. That gallery was intimidating, their artists include Warhol, Picasso, Keith Haring…
Chalk and Vermilion wanted a surrealist for its network of Martin Lawrence galleries across the country. That was 2002. They have 10 galleries in major cities. It was a no-brainer. And it just took off!
Petty commissioned Deyber for the artwork of his album, “Highway Companion”
Can you keep up with demand?
My contract requires 200 paintings a year. Sometimes I have to pull all-nighters.
When are you coming up with all of these ideas?
All the time. I get a lot of my ideas in the middle of the night. It’s crazy, for any title, I sometimes come up with 20 different versions of one title. Or I’ll make up my own titles. I’ll take phrases and change them to suit my own needs. The one that jumps to mind is the phrase, “the right to bear arms” well I changed to “the right to arm bears” that kind of thing.
Will you ever run out of ideas?!
No. I’m really into text right now. So I’m kind of in the process of drifting into text paintings. Some of them are dirty – a little bit blue.
Let us know if you need help 🙂
Oh good! Do you have a particular feeling or emotion at the end of a painting?
Yes. There are paintings that I fall in love with that I can’t part with.
What’s your current obsession?
This is another series of text, it’s phonetic English. If you’ve ever looked up a word in the dictionary, you’ll see it phonetically, and it’s almost like its own language. Language and words and phrases have always fascinated me.
How are things going for you at Martin Lawrence Galleries?
At Martin Lawrence, they had 7 or 8 living artists who were doing pretty well. Over the course of the first few years (I was with them), I started outselling them, then I outsold the Picasso, Warhol, Keith Haring stuff, and so I was the number one selling artist there for a number of years. Things fluctuate, but it’s beyond what I could have imagined.
Are there any other mediums you’d like to try?
Yeah, I’d like to do sculpture, but the things I’d want to do cost way into the 6 figures. It’s on my bucket list. I think it would be fun to turn some of my paintings into 3-dimensional work.
Have you always lived in Litchfield County?
I moved up here from Greenwich when I was in my 20s and fell in love with the area. It was the best place ever. I knew I had to go out and make a career for myself, but I told everyone here, “I don’t know how or when, but I will be moving back to Litchfield County” because I love it so much and it’s like no other place in the world that I ever saw.
Any hobbies besides painting?
Fixing up houses.
If we ever think of a good painting idea, can we email it to you?
Please do! You have no idea, so many of my collectors email me. People get a kick out of it if I paint their idea. It’s great, one idea leads to another, leads to another. It’s so much fun. I’m not tired of it yet.
We’re total Robert Deyber groupies…can you sign our books? 😁
Pics: Lora/Words: Bev