Robert Loughlin: Portrait of the Artist as a Puffier Older Man

Originally posted December 15, 2010 on

Picker, painter, performance artist. Plastered peripatetic, intoxicated on life and an impressive array of substances. Had he been born at the turn of the century, Robert Loughlin would surely have been part of the Dada group, selling Peter Behrens clocks and Christopher Dresser trays to Man Ray and Duchamp, and painting faces on urinals. Had he been born in the thirties, he’d have been on the road with Kerouac and Burroughs. As it was, he made the scenes in Haight-Ashbury in the late 1960’s, Miami Beach in the early 1980’s, and the East Village soon after that, and wound up selling Nelson clocks and Dreyfuss trays to Andy Warhol and Robert Mapplethorpe, and painting faces on urinals.

Robert began painting in the early 1980’s, several years after he started picking. For the record, Robert was one of the first–maybe the first–to rediscover mid-century American design in the late 1970’s, at a time when everyone else was looking for French deco or chrome Machine Age. Robert’s stories about his finds are the stuff of legend. He is a human divining rod for fungible modern design (I can hear him snickering at the word rod). His colorful life-a self-creation drawn from Dada, Beat, Pop, Punk, and Gay subcultures, is distilled into his painting, which is itself distilled into a single image. The Brute, an amalgam of his own face and that of his longtime partner Gary Carlson, is now an outsider art icon, having been painted on canvases, cardboard boxes, wooden crates, chairs, and buildings.

Robert’s work is turning up in high-end interior design projects and galleries, and is about to be the subject of a catalog and two exhibitions. Somehow, after all the years of living like a character in a Hunter Thompson or William Burroughs story, Robert is still picking and still painting. He dropped in at my showroom this morning to say hello—I hadn’t seen him in several years, though I am representing his work in NYC—and he couldn’t resist trying to sell me a Karl Springer coffee table he’d recently found. We chatted for a while, which means I listened to him reminisce and dish. 

One of these days, I’ll have to get him on tape.  I’ve known Robert since the early nineties, and I know there’s a good article or two or three there. Before he left, I got him to sit in front of one of the large canvases he painted last summer for an impromptu portrait. This image is shown here, along with a handful of Polaroid pictures culled from his website. Robert told me he recently painted the Brute on a Port-o-San at a New Jersey Flea Market. The following week he saw that someone had hacked it out of the heavy plastic and absconded with it. How you know you’ve arrived.