DONALD BY THE YARD
“One thing I learned at Estee Lauder is you really have to be diverse. . .an audience will approve and celebrate your various possibilities.” –Donald Robertson, June 17, 2014
Who is Donald Robertson? Right now he’s the man of the hour with two different shows of his drawings on exhibit in the New York City area through June 30. To many, he’s also known as an effervescent creative force whose drive, individuality, and personality have been energizing the fashion and beauty world since the 1980s. A Toronto native and one of three founders of MAC Cosmetics Toronto, Robertson moved to New York City in 1989 and put down stakes in the corporate world. This included working ten years at Conde Nast and, as creative director, launching American Marie Claire.
Having recently rejoined Estee Lauder, he works with Bobby Brown Cosmetics and has had a new position as roving Creative Director created for him as well. Now, Robertson’s first solo gallery show, titled #highfunctioningadd, opens June 21, from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM at the Eric Firestone Gallery in the East Hamptons. In the merging of his “two lives” – corporate, and as an artist and family man, the exhibit is co-hosted by his good friend, designer Lisa Perry, Carlos Souza and designer Kim Gieske (Mrs. Donald Robertson). The show will be on exhibit through June 30.
About that show title: speaking with Robertson recently, he pointed out that “We live in a culture of ADD” and that he himself belongs in that category. In fact, he goes by more than one name. On the Instagram feed, where late in 2012 he started sharing his drawings, he is donalddrawbertson. Currently he has more than 51,000 followers, including customers. For his shows he uses the name Donald Drawbertson Robertson. He signs his drawings Donald.
Earlier in June, “Donald by the Yard,” by Donald Drawbertson Robertson opened at Curves Boutique and Gallery on Bond Street in Manhattan. Owner Nevena Borisova chose the exhibition as the first for her new Curve Gallery. The show will stay up through June 30.
About this show title: to date, Robertson has shown his drawings primarily through the Instagram feed, where images appear small, as they will to those who view them on their phone. But for the gallery, Donald created his drawings one by one, directly onto a continuous roll of Kraft paper that was afterwards fixed to the gallery walls. Markings inbetween drawings indicate where one stops and another begins. Hence, they can be sold “by the yard.” From the opening night, a Curve representative revealed, the crowd was enthusiastic and sales have been good, prices starting at four figures.
From all signs to date and what’s in the wings, Donald Robertson’s position among the roster of key players/creative directors in the business of fashion and beauty is secure. And out of the office, the intuitively propelled, must-create #highfunctioningadd artist soars just as high, venturing into new territory, while ever-devoted to his wife and their bevy of five children. These include twins who arrived unexpectedly on Christmas Eve 2013 and who are both already present in Robertson’s drawings, and a daily stimulus for the flow of new ideas.
Not to suggest that Robertson ever lacks for a new idea or approach. His work arises from a sea of materials, subjects, variations (endless), and themes. Anything may become the substrata of his art– cereal boxes, trash set aside for disposal, cardboard, gaffers tape, Velcro, and high-fashion bags recreated into a Kermit bag or given another whimsical twist that turns them into a new luxury product.
Robertson likes being able to react in the moment, to heed the offbeat, unexpected flow of ideas and images about fashion, celebrity, and media stars that spring into existence. When I asked him if he ever listens to music while working, he said, “Never. That’s the last thing I need. I work in a constant flow.” That would be an ADD flow, but blessedly filtered through his rare good nature, nonstop personal muse, love of pop culture and delight in creative play –where he can react immediately to a thought or situation.
He is open to his creative possibilities and he celebrates them all. His life and art are of the Now. Seizing not just the day but the second.
In other cases, the iconic elements he draws may lend themselves to being repurposed by someone else, as when a fashion designer incorporated Robertson’s drawing of massive red pulchritudinous lips into a dress design.
And to think Donald’s wonder world of art is produced in his basement studio, where he goes to work very early in the morning to come up with what will be his three drawings for the day. After that he’s off to the twenty-minute ride into Grand Central Station and onto the Estee Lauder corporate offices. Seemingly different worlds, but Robertson thrives on the combination, understanding that both are part of his equilibrium.
In that other of his life where he is the artist/illustrator, very soon Robertson’s spreading word of his success with Instagram in not only sharing but also marketing his work globally, is likely to be recognized with an award. His experience in selling his work on Instagram through the middleman app Trendabl has revealed new possibilities for artists apart from the high rollers’ fine art scene.
After watching the decline of interest in illustration over the past few decades, Robertson is glad to share his thoughts about Instagram as a game-changer open to anyone: “Illustration could not be better in terms of publishing. Instagram has turned the whole thing upside down. On Instagram I can sell illustrations that I could not sell to galleries or magazines. I can post the same thing on Facebook and on Instagram. It will get three likes on FB and 900 likes on Instagram in a matter of minutes. Instagram is so much more positive. It’s global, the technology works. I’m getting protective of it. If there’s a problem with someone we work it out.”