As our current cultural climate threatens to encroach on freedom of choice, expression, sexuality and equity, my work serves to echo the reality of the American experience, one that is diverse, fluid and multifaceted. My nude and portrait paintings tell the stories of ordinary people from all walks of life paired with a sense of defiance and irreverence for societal norms regarding gendered ideas of behavior, identity, and sexuality.

The construction of a painterly image can take months and as such responds to the historic legacy of portraiture, while expressing a distinctly contemporary experience of the world. While my process is undeniably ensconced in the ways of academic painting, my subjects are by no means the traditional type; rather I search for people who have a certain emotional clarity and as well may be unconventional in their personal expression of sexuality. They might meet your glance head on, while still others just have a remarkable beauty that seems somehow unusual. Many of my subjects seem to reveal their inner lives in the portraits.

In much of my work I try to subvert relationships between the model and the audience, allowing a dialogue between the two to begin. The composition of each defiant portrait is achieved by finding that place between the humorous and poignant, a kind of intimacy that goes beyond my relationship with the model. These sensations are an important part of my practice. For example, intimacy and a certain tenderness is also at the core of my Oyster still life series. These studies of the inner beauty of such succulent creatures express a certain robust appreciation of the tactile, the feminine and as such my identity as a woman. This is further reflected in my rebellious nude works, and I would ask my viewers to consider that I am a woman painting nude women, and as such my work reflects both the challenge and richness of this experience. It seems that my subjects seem to emerge from my pictures alternately bold and vulnerable and yet always beautiful even in the most unusual ways. This layered intimacy is meant to reflect the diverse nature of the human experience. Such inclusiveness and complexity of intention connects my work to the current of realist work today, a new seditious genre that simultaneously embraces studio painting and engages in questions of identity, race, beauty, and gender.


American painter Nadine Robbins’ contemporary style is distinguished by a masterly command of academic painting techniques paired with an irreverence for rules, gender and beauty. Much of the painter’s practice focuses on themes of defiance, and a singular form of eroticism that is presented from a new and unexpected perspective. In particular, Robbins has earned great admiration for her iconoclastic nudes, as well as an ongoing series of portraits that oscillate between the mysterious and the candid. There is also a remarkable group of oyster still life paintings that in their lush precision seem to achingly intersect genres of eroticism and the still life.

Overall, Robbin’s use of luscious jewel toned paint and high-fidelity realism ties the artist to the late twentieth century and contemporary traditions of hyper-realism, photo-realism, and super-realism. Like Chuck Close, the artist uses a similar photographic and painterly process to produce dynamic contemporary portraits. Robbins’ montage-like use of atelier technique and way of working adds to the oeuvre, a studied complexity that is enticing and refined.

It can be said that Robbin’s work is decidedly at the intersection of identity politics presenting the feminine form in new and unexpected ways, allowing a dynamic to evolve between the viewer and the viewed, and as well upsetting the traditional roles of the male gaze and the feminine subject. This inversion of accepted norms and structures of power is related to a trend in contemporary art, seen in current practitioners such Kehinde Wiley wherein the artist’s painting of ordinary people is set within symbolic structures and emblematic themes. Robbins for her part uses the genre of portraiture and nudity to express a similar sense of irreverence for societally assigned roles, and as well uses her work to evoke a feminine perspective or sense of sexuality, eroticism and self. More recently, the artist has been experimenting with the use of abstraction within realist picture planes, expanding on her idea of expression and form.

As well as a solo exhibition at Brill Gallery, Massachusetts, 2009 Robbins has shown widely in group shows such as Perspectives of the American Experience, American Women Artists, Rockwell Museum, Corning, New York, 2018; Figurative Masters, Arcadia Contemporary, Culver City, California; The Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art, Wisconsin; Women Painting Women, RJD Gallery, South Hampton, New York; The 12th Annual Group Show, International Guild of Realism, Winfield Gallery, Carmel, California; Dissent; Sparrow Gallery; Attention to Detail, Robert Lange Studios, Charleston, South Carolina and Formation, A Painting Survey in conjunction with Poets & Artists, Bernarducci.Meisel, New York, New York.

Robbins is the recipient of a grant from the Puffin Foundation, 2017 and in 2015, Robbins was selected for the special feature Poets and Artists, 50 Memorable Painters and was listed as one of top figurative painters working now by Buzzfeed, 2017. The artist’s work may be found in several important private collections, most notably the Howard A. & Judith Tullman Collection, Chicago and The Count-Ibex Collection, Germany.                                             

©2018 Rosa JH Berland Art Historian