detail, Transfiguration, 2015, oil on paper
detail, Metamorphosis, 2015, etching


Place has been central to my work for the past twenty years. I return over and over to places that for one reason or another have pulled me into entering their life. However, what a small hill in the Sonoran desert, a river bank in Kyoto, Japan, a nondescript crossroads in Umbria, the lakes of Yellowstone and the glacier remains in Central Park have in common is beyond my understanding. Once I select a location, I draw and observe, ideally over a full year, in all times of the day and night, to discover the essence of this particular place. My prints and paintings are then made from these life studies.

At first, it can be hard to see anything of interest, and it takes a while to get my eyes focused to the right wave length. Lately I have begun to notice the myriad of pathways that make up the life of any spot and how people and animals have certain, almost predetermined, ways of inhabiting an area. As I stay on longer I realize that plants have their own paths of seeding, flowering and dying that take place through time, and later I see this is also true of rocks, roads and buildings. All the matter in the universe seemingly so stable is in constant flux.

As my vision deepens, I see there is no stability at all—only a convergence of paths whose gravities and attractions pull us into a Brownian motion of forms that assists in our own flowering and disappearances. In a sense, there is no place at all.

Ordinary reality and the ordinary places I seek within it seem as mysterious and odd as the photos from the other end of outer space. It is an endless adventure to understand what is right in front of our face. I feel I am only just beginning to see.

—Robert Royhl



Printmaking has been a big part of my artistic life since my undergraduate days in the late ’60s. However, I never really considered myself a printmaker and if asked always said I was a painter, a painter who liked making prints, but still a painter. The world of printmaking with its editions and obsession with technical arcana didn’t interest me at all. I approached the copper plate like a painter facing the blank canvas eager to see what could be created, and like a painter, when it was finished, I was ready to move on. This is why there are only three or four copies of most of my plates and they are all called artist proofs.

Since I considered myself really to be a painter, I was freer to experiment and play in printmaking. There wasn’t the weight of so many expectations and dreams as I had wrapped up in my painting life. Ironically over the last 40 years I have slowly realized that the printmaking may be leading my paintings in terms of creative daring. I even had the suspicion recently that my paintings might be providing imagery to be fulfilled in the prints.

Etching has two aspects that I find very liberating. One is the play between the acid and the metal. Your idea is fulfilled by the geological action of the acid on the metal. The acid is an artistic partner, probably with a will of its own. The second aspect is the image is reversed and then only visible in the printing so there is a distance in one’s relationship to the print that does not exist in painting, and in this distance very interesting things happen.

Much to my surprise I am finding out that what I do in printmaking is leading the way for my painting. This is the exact reverse of what I had always assumed and I feel sure it is partly because I don’t take it so seriously. Someday I hope to have the freedom to play and experiment in my paintings that I have naturally had in the prints.

—Robert Royhl