The comparison is there. It’s difficult
This month, I’m looking into
the art of a woman who specializes in “plein
air” (literally “outdoor”) painting,
both landscapes and still lifes done on site. She is a
handsome woman in her fifties who relocated to a small
western community that is slowly becoming a vortex for
other artists like her. The most recognizable of her paintings
are enlarged views of flowers and plants, where the painter
has boldly captured the feminine contours of the blooms
and where color dominates over detail.
No, I’m not talking about
This month we’re taking a
closer look at the work of Moab’s artist, Robin Straub,
whose paintings and persona evince the magic of the renowned
painter who came before her.
Straub’s art is feminine
without being sentimental. She interprets her view of the
natural world around her in bold colors and brush strokes
that replicate the contours of the female body.
comparison between O’Keefe and Straub is neither
accidental nor sought after. Indeed, Straub is very familiar
with her predecessor’s work and considers herself
an admirer of O’Keefe’s work. She does not,
however, strive to emulate her, but has in common a deep
love of the desert and what can thrive there. This love
affair with the desert is what brought her to Moab and
what continually inspires her.
A lover of nature and gardening,
Straub generally paints in the outdoors. She camps, hikes
and hauls her materials to sketch and paint on site, rather
than waiting to return to the studio. She prefers to work
from nature rather than photographs and is excited by this
This desire to paint in the open
creates a sense of freshness and immediacy in her paintings
since she must work quickly before the scene changes. Most
notably, she must capture the essence of her subject before
the light source moves too far, creating different shadows
This need for speediness manifests itself on the canvas in
broad strokes, where color and contour dominate over detail.
Straub is going more towards abstract expressionism, where
she concentrates on capturing the feelings and a personal
interpretation of the subject. The subjects of Straub’s
paintings are generally recognizable since she hasn’t
fully eschewed representation. Her style manifests itself
in her use of color which produces lively hues as well as
movement on the canvas.
Highly influenced by Fauvism, a
turn-of-the-century art movement led by Henri Matisse,
Straub uses bold, brilliant hues. Fauvism evolved from
Impressionism, creating a distinctive style by using pure
colors, sometimes straight from the paint tubes, and applying
it in swift, broad strokes to create a vibrant result.
Looking at Straub’s work, whether the subject is a
nude, a landscape or a flower, this influence clearly surfaces.
Like many local artists who have relocated to Moab because
of this aesthetically inspiring landscape, Straub moved here
three years ago after countless camping trips in the area
over the last twenty-five years. She has a degree in Art
and is retired from a career in education in Santa Cruz,
California. She has since depicted the ochre rock formations
and desert vegetation in many paintings.
The distinctive quality in her
representations of the area landscapes is the vivid palette
she uses, which is generally as she claims, “brighter
than the actual colors.” In “Cheesebox Butte,” for
instance, she allows streaks of crimson and purple to show
through rather than blending them in with softer colors
in order to tone them down.
The brush strokes she uses to apply this intense color appear
throughout the painting, in the sky, the buttes and the vegetation,
and are as much part of the composition as the color. These
strokes form another recognizable quality of Straub’s
work, which is the use of feminine curves in the contours
of the painting. These rounded soft contours are easier to
identify in Straub’s depictions of nudes and flowers,
even though they are equally present in her representations
In her latest painting, “Granary,” she
applied acrylics with a brush while painting outdoors and
then later went over the acrylic with oils in her studio,
using a palette knife instead of a brush. She is experimenting
with this new technique in part because she likes the relief
and texture of oils (which take longer to dry, making acrylics
easier to use in plein air painting) and in part because
she likes the spontaneity of the palette knife, over which
she has much less control than a brush.
the straight edge of the knife, she retains soft contours
in her composition. This became clearly evident to me as
I laid out two of her works side by side, one a quick figure
study done of the top half of a reclining woman and the
second, “Granary,” depicting a clearly defined
doorway in a swirling mass of color resembling a canyon.
The contours of the woman’s elbow, breast, shoulder
and belly are all unconsciously replicated in the contours
of the canyon landscape. These two paintings are not meant
to be connected, but the similar feminine curves found
in both help explain Straub’s feminine perspective
in her paintings.
The colors of the landscape in “Granary” are
bold, but darker than in her previous works. The rectangular
door composed of an indigo wall, a crimson ceiling and
a black interior stands in stark contrast to the rolling
contours of the surrounding rock, inviting the viewer’s
perspective to linger on that entrance and wonder what
lies within. Although the contours in the landscape are
soft, the strokes created by the palette knife are sharp
and angular, imbuing the painting with an edgier look than
Straub’s still lifes and nudes.
of a Nude"
The feminine quality to her paintings
produces more of a feeling of sensuality rather than sentimentality,
a similarity that once again harkens to the paintings of
O’Keefe. Straub’s painting of two yellow-green
artichokes casting purple shadows on an orange background
pulses with vitality, unusual for a still life. The saturated
hues of the four main colors lend a richness to the work.
The artichokes with their curved stems look as if they
have randomly rolled into position, one leaning against
the other, lending a feeling of spontaneity to the composition.
Like O’Keefe’s famous petals, the leaves on
these artichokes exude feminine sensuality.
I don’t mean to lessen the importance of Straub’s
work by likening it to a predecessor’s, particularly
one so popular as O’Keefe. Straub is by no means a
copycat. In fact, it is not so much Straub’s work that
reminds me of O’Keefe as much as it is her persona,
a highly independent beautiful woman who loves the outdoors,
particularly the desert. Her passion for painting is strong
and her desire to explore the world through her own artistic
vision evident in the array of paintings she has created.
Straub has defined her own style, evident in the qualities
that emerge in the majority of her work, most notably the
use of bold colors and feminine contours that help her create
art that vibrates with life.