Call of the Valley: Artist Robert Tynes finds meaning in juxtaposition

Shelly Frome
Call of the Valley
Artist Robert Tynes settled in the Black Mountain area.

As though guided by Joseph Campbell’s famous maxim, artist Robert Tynes has been following his bliss ever since he was a youngster.  

“In about the fifth grade in Birmingham, Alabama, my social studies teacher recognized I could draw pretty well so she set me off on drawing portraits of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington," Tynes said. "I didn’t have to take notes so I felt pretty privileged and she would hang my drawings up around the room. That was the beginning of my feeling maybe I wanted to be an artist.”

He was also interested in magic tricks and practical jokes which carried over into his work. Then, by and by in the '70s he came across the illusions created by Stephen Posen juxtaposing photographic realism and seemingly whole objects like garments in dry-cleaning bags which were actually rendered in oil. Among many other influences, he was taken with the pictorial surrealism of Jean Miro. In grad school he was told to come up with his own distinctive style. And so he decided to combine abstraction, hyper-realism and, in a sense, Trompe L’oeil or “tricks of the eye” -- shades of the days when he delved in magic. During an art history course, Rene Magritte’s thought-provoking images in unusual contexts “blew his mind” as a major influence.

Artist Robert Tynes juxtaposes items not usually considered as going together.

This is how he summed it all up: “Juxtaposing things like Magritte in a dramatic way really excited me. Pairing two different approaches to painting created a tension and a challenge to make them work together compositionally. The color and everything produces a surprise as the stillness of the still life and the activity and movement of the brush-marks feed off each other.”

For instance, in a work he calls “Branching out” the painting of a branch jutting from a piece of birch plywood coupled with the shadow it would have caused creates the illusion and surprise of a three dimensional object along with the imagery behind it.  

His evolving painterly experiences have taken him from undergraduate studies in Memphis to graduate studies at East Carolina University, to a stint teaching at Humboldt State in California, to a grant as artist in residence in 1985 in New Mexico. Then on to being hired by Tucker Cooke who started the art department at UNC Asheville where he was eventually granted tenure. He once was commissioned to do a large painting for the city of Charlotte in 1995 for its new convention center which he called “Diversity and Hope” reflecting notable aspects of Charlotte’s history.  

Artist Robert Tynes says of his philosophy, "Pairing two different approaches to painting created a tension and a challenge to make them work together compositionally."

In deciding on a home high up on the slopes of Black Mountain, as it happens, his family enjoyed a retreat every summer at Montreat. “I love the mountains here,” he went on to say. “Got it in my blood early on. I worked as a teenager in the craft shop in Montreat in the summers and even got married to Bette (an artist in her own right) up on the parkway at Craggy Gardens.”

All in all, he feels fortunate in having a career doing what he loves, with a secure income, in an ideal setting coupled with the joy of raising a family sans any marketing concerns.

Fairly recently, however, he came down with chronic leukemia which, less than a year ago, turned out to be acute. While supported throughout by his wife and the good wishes of this community he has finally reached the point where he is on maintenance chemo for a few hours for five days every four weeks.    

Robert Tynes was part of the art department at UNC Asheville.

Tynes feels the diversity of his work also reflects the diversity of the world and all the tension out there. In his current work in progress generated by the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, he has added political quotes along with the juxtaposition of imagery like a hockey stick and a broken window.

On the other hand, his approach is an attempt to bring the world together by finding ways to make the elements work together. Like jazz, it’s all open to interpretation.