My name is Leah Merete Robb – a culmination of the Scottish and Danish heritage that coexists in my make-up as well as my name. Although I spent all my childhood years in Scotland, I was quickly made aware of being different either because of my foreign nationality or the arty characteristics. Regardless, the combination is perhaps what has triggered my interest in studying and portraying people – especially those who are at odds with society as a whole.
I Studied art at Duncan of Jordanstone college of art – Dundee, Scotland from 1996-2000, graduating with an Honour’s degree in Drawing and Painting. I concluded with an exhibition of paintings representing tarnished and weathered surfaces. I had become fascinated by the sight of a disused warehouse whose structure was now cracking and crumbling and soon to be demolished. I couldn’t help but be drawn to the textures, colour nuances and the patterns created by the rust and peeling paint. From a distance it was decay. Close-up there was beauty. I observed that this was also true with regards to those whose life-stories are written on their faces.
My interest in people continued to grow, but with the added concern about community breakdown – the isolation and social deprivation. In 2006 I visited an alternative community in Copenhagen called Christiania. That which caught my attention most was Christiania’s preservation of the community spirit despite the context of physical decay in the buildings and sadly also in many of the people who hang out there. Christiania tells many real-life stories, both triumphant and tragic and the artist can make a choice of which to portray. However, I realised that the best way for me to reflect Christiania was to portray the individual people as they saw themselves interpreted by me.
For each portrait, I have thought about whether there is a particular palette, painting style, surface texture, background image, canvas shape or frame material that would best help with the narration of the individual in question. This lends itself to the portrayal of diversity and individuality as well as helping the viewer with the interpretation of each work. The story is tangible and has evidently struck a chord with audiences so far. It has been described as a visual documentation of the lives of these interesting characters – some cracked, some crumbling, but not deprived of beauty – a beauty normalisation cannot accommodate for.
Since art college and the Christiania portrait project, I’ve explored Sculpture, Photography, Filmmaking, Rhythm Art, Street Installation and Script-writing and combinations of the above.
Otto Frello Portrait
I heard about the Danish artist, Otto Frello in 2000 and met him briefly in 2004, but as I was beginning my Christiania portraits in 2008, he came to mind and I decided to visit him with samples of my work. This led to a friendship of mutual respect for out artworks. Frello came to my following exhibition openings and I would visit him on occasion. The thought then struck me that he would be a more than ideal subject matter for my next portrait. When permission was granted, I found myself in front of my biggest artistic challenge yet. This man is one of the artists I have the biggest respect for due to his technical ability, but also his ability to combine this with humour. Secondly, I felt I had something to live up to after the Christiania portrait series.
In short, Frello asked if the portrait would be finished in time for his retrospective exhibition in 2014. This was all the encouragement I needed to make this my absolute best portrait.