By Kristin Kendle on February 16, 2011
ROBBI FIRESTONE: More than paint goes into her portraits. Photo by Chip Van Gilder
Revealing the human mystery,
one portrait at a time
You could whip out your wee digital camera if you want to capture your image, but, let’s face it, digital cameras are a flash in the pan. The real way to record the essence of you is one that kings and queens of old recognized – sit your booty down and have your portrait painted. Robbi Firestone is a portrait artist based in Tacoma, but she is no average artist. Combining a spiritual approach with her unique style, she aims not only to create a physical likeness, but to capture who a person is. She calls the finished product a Spirit Capture Portrait.
With bold brushstrokes and an always-changing palette of color, Firestone is drawn to portraits. “My interest as an artist is a focus on capturing the inner life – the infinite mystery of a human being,” she says.
Where most of us may want to let that mystery stay a mystery, Firestone’s portraits aim to peel it away. During a sitting, she holds a conversation with her subjects. This conversation starts with an important item of the sitter’s choice that she requests the subjects bring with them. It is this conversation that reveals just who sits before her and what emotions and colors should go into the portrait.
Her technique yields paintings that are just pretty damn cool. Bold brushstrokes and Fauvist colors (no worries, I had to look that up too) don’t create paintings that look like photographs, but instead emotional, colorful and fascinating portraits. She works with a variety of materials, primarily museum-quality, archival oil paint, but depending on the subject, all kinds of bonus materials work their way in.
“With each portrait, my palette changes,” she says. “I design each piece to complement the feeling tone of the individual. My portraits may contain gold leaf, henna design, tea bag quotes, textiles, Reiki symbols, hieroglyphics, sea glass, recycled objects, beads or metallic inks.”
Firestone also includes a letter with each portrait, which is somewhere between a psychic reading and a deep understanding of her subjects from the conversation she holds with them. The letter gets painted right into the portrait. But there is also a fresh copy attached to the back of the painting so no one has to chip away at their portrait to know what Firestone is saying about them.
“It’s a letter that speaks of my appreciation for that person,” she says. “I realized that as we walk in the world, we don’t really appreciate each other. We’re so afraid of each other, we don’t recognize the gifts the person in front of us has to give. So when I write these intuitive readings, it’s a letter from my deepest heart to yours about what I think is magnificent about you.”
Spirituality is a key element of all Firestone’s paintings, and beyond that, her life. “My spiritual growth is the most important focus of my life,” she says. “My paintings are born from this, and worthless to me without it.”
Firestone doesn’t just walk the walk either. She travels the world, seeking out a new visual vocabulary from cultures everywhere and “anthropological adventure.” With travels from Tanzania to Peru to Turks and Caicos to Europe, this woman really knows how to make me jealous.
“At four years old, my mother died, provoking a survival-oriented curiosity around spirituality, world religions and philosophies,” she says. Everything from Zulu medicine visioning to Egyptian hieroglyphic studies makes its way into her artwork. She is also a Reiki practitioner and a licensed spiritual practitioner though Centers for Spiritual Living.
She has been an artist almost her entire life, starting with drawing as a small child. She attended the Parsons School of Design as well as the Fashion Institute of Technology, and studied further at Glazier Atelier and Pasadena Art Center.
“I demand the exemplary in my life,” she says. “I live to inspire, empower, and enrich the lives of those around me. My portraits are a fulfillment of my life’s mission.”