My artwork is inspired by vivid dreams
When Robert Bassett started showing his artwork 40 years ago, people were baffled.
Pink cottages and seascapes were the norm; he was painting figures with elongated necks and exaggerated facial features.
Critics called his work “childlike” and “untrained” even though he created them using his degrees in art and sociology.
A lot has changed since then. When his show The Journey of the Dream opened at Masterworks this month, paintings priced at $8,500 flew off the walls.
“I've had to replace several paintings in the show,” said the 64-year-old. “People understand my work a lot better today and are very supportive.”
Regardless of whether he thought the piece would sell or not, he has always painted to please himself.
“Living on an island, sometimes I feel pressure to paint what the tourists might want to buy,” he said. “But when I try to paint to sell, rather than painting what I want to paint, that's when I experience difficulty.”
His work is inspired by his night dreams, hence the show name, Journey of the Dream.
“I dream in such vivid colours that I struggle to recapture them when I'm awake,” he said.
“Sometimes my dreams are like aeroplanes waiting to take off. They are there until I get around to painting them. They don't fade from my mind.”
While his work is fairly fixed in the figurative expressionist style, he's still growing and trying new things all the time. For example, the show includes several floral still lifes, a departure from his usual human subject matter.
“In high school I hated doing still life,” he said. “I considered them very restrictive, but recently I have been trying them with my own style and they have worked out great.
“Right now I am doing a lot of experimenting with texture, colour and the material that is used in applying a painting surface.
“In fact, I've been exploring painting without a brush at all.”
He uses sponges, paper towels and even wire coat hangers to create different effects.
His artistic journey started at four.
“My father, Kenneth Bassett, drove a water truck in Somerset for almost 40 years,” said Mr Bassett. “One day we were in the garage and he was painting his water truck, a repurposed fire engine.”
When his father's back was turned, Mr Bassett grabbed up a brush and painted a sailboat on the garage wall. It was a risky move, since painting on the walls was a big no-no, and he did it with bright red paint.
Instead of being angry his father looked at it admiringly and said, “That's cool!”.
“That was the first validation I ever had as a painter,” he said. “Until then I didn't really know that art was something good to do.”
His last show was in 2012 at the Ace Gallery. He's shown around the world: at the Museum of African Art in California, the National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta and at the Agora gallery and the Montauk Club in New York. He maintained a day job throughout his arts career.
For the last nine years he has worked as a salesman in the lumber depot in Gorham's Ltd.
“I paint after work, sometimes until 2am,” he said. “My employers have been very good to me over the years.”
He and his wife, Ann, have two daughters Mesheiah Crockwell and Sheena Bassett, and three grandchildren. Art from two of his grandchildren, Kiara Crockwell, 5, and Xavier Bassett, 4, was included in his exhibit.
“I'm always on the lookout for talent in my grandchildren,” Mr Bassett said. “I am very proud of them.”
His 12-year-old grandson Kilae Bassett had a piece in Mr Bassett's last show.
Journey of the Dream runs in the Rick Faries Gallery until January 4.