Robert Benton Race
b. 1947, Berkeley, CA
Robert Race is an artist living and working in Northern California. He works in a variety of media. He is a prolific painter and sculptor with multiple bodies of work ranging from scathing critique of war politics to abstract studies to vibrant landscapes.
After returning from a tour of duty in Vietnam, he moved to Chico, CA where he studied fine art at the local university. He earned the Master of Art degree in painting, 1975. Enchanted by the town's tall trees and friendly inhabitants he decided to make the area a permanent home; raising a family and building a studio in the hills.
After graduation, he took a teaching job in the Art Department at Butte Community College where he remained until the late eighties when Moon Publications hired him as an illustrator-cartographer. He soon became director of the company’s Illustration Department. In 2001, he embraced the opportunity to concentrate full time on art. He has since undertaken a variety of new projects and continues working within existing veins of interest.
Race’s creative oeuvre is diverse and skill centered—encompassing everything from furniture building and children’s book illustration to sculpture and painting, which make up the bulk of his artistic output. His commitment to the craft of art and pursuit of refined technique is exceptional. He is a painter in the most traditional sense, but works in a style that is contemporary and engaging. His art may be looked at as two discreet groups of work; one concerns itself with beauty and the experience of seeing, while the other takes on issues of institutionalized power abuse and human failing. Accessible and easily read work that is neither surface nor simplistic comprises both groups.
His landscapes, which are in a style that owes much to California Impressionism, are born of a love of the outdoors and traditional painting. These works embody Race’s appreciation and understanding of his environment as the result of natural and domestic processes. For Race, the work is as much about seeing and painting as it is about his cultural and individual relationship to the land. His concentration on depicting agrarian land and rivers speaks to this and has antecedents in the work of artists like George Inness, Jacob van der Croos, and Monet.
Like his landscapes, Race's social commentary paintings are often colorful and composed of a multitude of layered strokes. But unlike the pastoral and riparian scenes, these pieces make use of appropriated imagery and materials that are more in tune with pop and abstract movements than with impressionism. Serial works such as Saturn Devouring His Children are ongoing, searing critiques of power and social advantage that resonate most when viewed in total rather than as individual paintings. Other pieces, like Dilatation and Do Funny, are self-sufficient works and have layers of meaning—from the explicit critique of public figures to deeply personal, obscure emotive references. Unafraid to grapple directly with the issues of our time, Race is remarkable for his melding of the personal and political in a way that shows us these two aspects of life are never actually separate.
In addition to fine art, Robert Race is an accomplished carpenter, draftsman, teacher, and gardener. He is also a devoted father, caring son, and valued person within his community.