Words by Elizabeth Sturgeon
Photos provided by The Caron Gallery
Robin Whitfield’s watercolor work wades knee-deep in the Mississippi River. Her subject matter, her pigments and her kayak-turned studio are all based in the state’s swamps and forests.
As she ventures through both her home in Grenada and the surrounding areas, Robin explores the biodiversity around her through her painting. That biodiversity is vivid and colorful, and her watercolor captures its beauty and life.
Robin’s career was born in Mississippi, taking form during her time at Delta State University and growing through her downtown Grenada studio. She traded oil paints for watercolors, which are light and easy to transport for her on-site, plein air painting.
While developing and mastering her style, Robin became more acquainted with the plants and animals around her, ones she didn’t recognize or know the names of before. She entered her artistic career somewhat intimidated by the mystery of the subject and her process, one that she now embraces.
“Unlike my early days of becoming an artist, uncertainty has come as an old friend. I didn’t know I missed her,” Robin says in a recent blog post for the Caron Gallery. “My hand reaches for a new color and movement all on its own… changing the direction of the painting.”
Her colors—greens and yellows and magentas—block out the pockets of trees and swamp life, then softly blend together. She describes that movement in her work as the magic and the uncertainty that happens beyond her control.
Through color and forms in her work, Robin presents the relationships within Mississippi’s ecological setting. Forests of sunlit auburn trees will sometimes meet shallow water, or branches lay crooked and dark across green patches of leaves.
Because she focuses on nature, she relies on what’s right in front of her as she paints. She has control over her strokes and colors, but she listens to the advice of her subject.
“What I am taking in with my senses and what the paint decides to do are the two main tensions that conjure the painting onto the paper,” Robin says. “This process reveals a beauty and poetry about nature that I can’t discover in any other way.”
Robin finds her inspiration in many different Mississippi parks and preserves, including Lee Tartt Nature Preserve, Malmaison Wildlife Management Area, Tallahatchie National Wildlife Refuge and Holly Springs National Forest.
She describes these outdoors spaces as her shelters and as places that drive her to open her eyes and mind and connect to the present moment. And when she finds and sees that present moment, she captures it with her colors.
Robin’s work can be found in the Caron Gallery, a Tupelo gallery that showcases about 40 Mississippi artists. The gallery carries abstracts, figures, modern and traditional landscapes, like those by Robin, and other mediums and styles all connected by the warmth and brightness of Mississippi.