July 23, 2018

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

This hot take on outsider artist and picker extraordinaire Robert Loughlin, a full-time colleague and part-time friend (mostly when he was sober) was originally posted in December 2010, when Robert was in an active creative phase, having recently completed a series of paintings on large canvases during what amounted to a rehab stint in the Hamptons. Unfortunately, less than a year later in September 2011, Robert would be struck and killed by a car while crossing a highway near his home in northern New Jersey.

Loughlin hamming it up at Weinberg Modern. Photography by Larry Weinberg.

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 1930’s, 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 Loughlin. Photography courtesy of Gary Carlson. 

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.

Polaroid. Photography courtesy of Gary Carlson. 

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 1990’s, 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.

Upcoming at the Wright auction. Lot 140. Untitled (Sony TV). Photography courtesy of Wright.

They say you remain alive as long as people remember you. People remember Robert, and continue swapping stories about his legendary picking exploits, and equally legendary drinking, snorting, and dissing. Robert had several 15 minutes of fame during his lifetime, including 5 minutes with Warhol himself, and is about to have another 15 when Wright presents the first solo auction of his work. “Robert Loughlin: Works from the Collection of Paul Johnson” will take place on July 25, 2018, and will feature more than 60 lots of paintings on a range of objects including sneakers, LP records, a champagne bottle, and a TV. 

Loughlin’s work has been gaining traction in the auction market over the past year, so it will be interesting to see the results and maybe hear the gossip about what went where. Full disclosure:  I still have about a dozen Loughlins in my own collection and plan on holding onto most of them for the time being. To learn more about Mr. Loughlin, visit the website hosted by his longtime partner Gary Carlson.

Upcoming at the Wright auctionLot 117. Untitled (Foot), c. 2005. Photography courtesy of Wright.
Upcoming at the Wright auction. Lot 102. Mollino Table. 2002Photography courtesy of Wright.

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