Friday, March 22, 2013

a profile of artist Robert Akeley

Robert Akeley has lived in Temescal for a long time, and seen it go through a lot of changes. His life has gone through a lot of changes, too, and his art is a reflection of that.

Robert was born in Maine in a pastor's family in the 1930s, and it was a conservative environment, as you might imagine. After college and training to be a psychiatrist came a big switch, and Robert ended up living in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood during the height of the Beat Generation in the 1950s (think Jack Kerouac if you don't know what that means). The 1960s brought more change for San Francisco, and for Robert.

But 1970 brought upheaval. Some might call it a mid-life crisis. Robert thinks of it more as a mid-life opportunity. While some people get depressed, Robert got angry. He moved out of San Francisco and found a house he could afford in Temescal, a neighborhood that was having its own crisis. The new routing of Highway 24 had recently been completed, and BART was busy tearing up neighborhoods all over Oakland. Temescal was something of a wasteland, cut off from what were formerly adjacent neighborhoods. Robert was becoming more focused on his internal life. To help process his own growth, Robert took up painting. He found Rob March Harper who became his teacher and guide. As Robert said, he didn't want to learn how he was supposed to paint, he just wanted to learn the basics.

As with most artists, Robert's interests and background help shape his art. People have always been his primary interest in life, so he began by painting portraits. Except for the glasses, his portrait of Carl Jung looks a lot like Robert with short hair. Besides practicing psychiatry, Jung also painted and sculpted, and proposed that creating art can be a form of therapy, so it's not a surprising connection.

Robert did other representational paintings, still in his same vibrant style, and began discovering that certain things looked more pleasing to his eye. More work on composition led to more abstract and less representational paintings. Now a larger part of Robert's work is abstract and geometrical in nature, though he also has a series of 'word' paintings that come directly from his psychiatric work.

Robert's home in Temescal is interesting in its own right. It was built in 1892 as a doctor's office, and as result has some interesting features. It has two front doors, one leading into the home, the other leading to a waiting room for patients. The largest bedroom appears to have been designed as lying-in ward, and one of the smaller rooms as a nurses' station. Art created by Robert and other artists adorns the walls, and the front room is devoted to music. Robert rents out various rooms to people, so it must feel more like community housing when everyone is home. Behind the house is a barn. Not a garage or garden shed as I imagined, but an actual barn with a hoist for hay bales and other supplies. The hay loft has been converted into a work space, and is quite cozy. Robert does his painting downstairs in the barn, sometimes accompanied by a stray cat that has adopted him. Around the barn are countless rose bushes, another of Robert's interests.

You can see some of Robert's work at the Rise Above Gallery on Telegraph, which is open Saturdays from 11am-5pm. In March there was an artist's reception that lots of folks turned out to enjoy. There was food from Happy Girl Kitchen Co., Corner Taco, and other friends, as well as beer from Barn Beer. Live music was provided by oMega LIVE and Bill Hampton. There will be a second artist's reception April 5th, 6-9pm, to celebrate a showing of more of Robert's paintings. Check out Robert's art if you're by on a Saturday, and definitely join the party for the second reception!

More pictures of Robert and his work:

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