December 11, 2019

Enter the Void: a look at “Spacious Art” & why it matters with Robert Mann.



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This is not a love letter to Los Angeles.

Let’s start there. The city is filthy, wildly overpopulated, literally burning down, and while disgustingly pretentious, it still manages to hold the attention of millions of people.


It has something to do with the endless pockets of interesting textures that reside beneath the surface coat that is Los Angeles.

I was invited for tea by local artist Robert Mann, where I planned to interview him about the large-scale paintings he constructs in his art studio. I sat in nonstop traffic on the 101 South, breathing in the lovely fumes and fought to merge two lanes over to exit an aggravated downtown Los Angeles.

After what felt like hours of traffic, I arrived at the Brewery Art Lofts, across the Los Angeles River from Chinatown. At first, it appeared to be a run-down old factory, sort of a steampunk/noir feel to it. But as I approached “Robert Mann Studio,” the city sounds seemed to fade out. I parked my car next to his antique Cadillac under two monstrous trees, chirping with birds.

Robert greeted me with a large smile. He invited me into his studio and offered me a cup of tea. As he prepared the water, I took in the space that he has created out of an old shipping hanger. The concrete floors are stained, the walls painted in shades of taupe and black, the exposed brick and wood beams left alone in its original state. There’s a sunroof that illuminates the entire studio. The space has this familiar Japanese, minimalist quality, but has a rough edge to it. Like a cabin in the woods where you don’t feel like you’re going to break everything. It’s elegant and spacious, but comfortable.

I turned my attention to his work, and it has a similar quality. Spacious, minimal, but not fragile. Robert brought a pot of Assam and poured me a cup.

I watched the steam for a moment and took in this unique version of Los Angeles.


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People regard you as a “transparent” artist. Can you speak about that?

Sure. I think that relates to my work, but also is specific to who I am as a person. My work is transparent in that I literally paint what I see. I see rust, metal, and wood, I paint it. But I try to understand the space around the focal point. That’s actually what grabs me.

Rust, for example, is a reaction. That reaction is really beautiful, but the space around it is what makes it visible. You can’t have one without the other. I’m not a musician, but I’d imagine it’s similar to the joy a vocalist feels finding the right acoustic. As an individual, I try my best to be transparent. I aim to be honest if that’s a better description. So much of my being comes through into my art. If I’m horrible, my work is horrible. I trust that.

Some people might regard your art as “simple.” Does that bother you?

Not at all. I love it. I mean, what is simple? Simple is basic. Uncomplicated in form. Easily understood. Approachable. We live in a beautiful time, things are evolving rapidly, it’s exciting. But we too are living in a time that consumes our beings with chaos, complication, and pain.

I’m trying to create a visual medium that slows that down. That’s my intention with all my work, to simply stop the mind. Even just for a second. Not through further chaos, but through space. I want to provide a canvas that allows people a moment of peace. Nothing more.

Some people won’t like it. And that’s okay. Some people take comfort in chaos, I understand that. But I’m aiming to provide spacious art, in hopes that it creates a spacious mind. That’s all I’m really trying to do.


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What does that mean, “A spacious mind?”

The world is consumed with streaming and escape, video games, and screen time. So many tools to take us away. To space-out and detach. I’m flirting with the opposite. To engage in being present, awake, or “woke”—however one likes to describe it. A spacious mind is void of distraction. It’s simply present.

And that’s a good thing?

Haha, I think so.

I’m gonna spitfire some questions and just give a “quick whip” answer.

Let’s do it.

G: What is your greatest fear?
R: I could’ve helped…But didn’t.

G: What do you believe about yourself?
R: My attention is short. But when you have it, it’s yours. I hate that about myself.

G: How did you get to this point?
R: Barely. (Laughing.) I mean, that’s a tough question. I’ve done very well, lived to see some beautiful successes. On the other hand, I have epically failed. Life is strange. But somehow I’ve learned to trust all of it.

G: Why live in L.A.?
R: The light. Such good light.

G: Where do you want to go?
R: Anywhere I’m useful.

G: What have you learned that you’d like to share with others?
R: Be kind. Just be kind.

G: What’s your superpower?
R: I have a beating heart.

G: How do you practice mindfulness?
R: As of late, I’ve focused mindfulness practice around more listening. I’m very interested in what people have to say.

G: What’s your process like when you paint?
R: Start, and always finish. Move on. Don’t hold on too tight. I definitely don’t bat one thousand percent with my work, not even close. So I try not to take myself too seriously.

G: How does contemporary art make you feel?
R: Mostly ho-hum. But then, someone does something so brilliant I can’t help but cry.

G: What is your point of view of the world right now?
R: What do we do if it rains? Get wet.

G: What is mindfulness art to you?
R: Simply, anything artistic that brings your attention to the present moment. And that really can be anything from flower arranging to mindfully, artistically taking out the trash.

G: What are your goals?
R: To see everyone again.

G: If this interview was one of your pieces of art, how would it end?

Instead of answering, Robert got up from the table, he grabbed a large calligraphy brush and dipped it into a bowl of Sumi ink. He then gently splashed the solid black ink onto pitch white paper. And that was that.

I got back into my car and slowly merged onto the 101 North.


Robert is scheduled to have his next showing in Boulder Colorado on January 19th, 2020 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Kaiut Yoga Boulder.

Connect with Robert on Instagram or at his website. Interview by Garrett Dorin, connect with him here


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