Stu Robertson is the Founder Artist of Peace In 10,000 Hands in Queenstown. In this interview, he talks about working his dream project, honest portraits, and pointing out without friction there is no fire.
How have you developed your career?
Through everything I have done. From pick-pocketing to design. Brand work for large companies to creating bespoke moments. Pushing the boundaries. Never excepting no / you can’t / why would you do that? Knowing that with courage and persistence your vision will always be realised. Push against the flow. Create your own. Challenge everything. And when it comes to your ideas, hold the line, complete your vision.
How do you cultivate a collector base?
This is an interesting question. My impression of this question, is that it is asked as a benchmark of success for an artist. I do get asked how many of your works did you sell this year, at your last show… I feel if you’re an artist and you hang or show it then that is measure enough. Is that enough though? That’s the hardest part.
Sometimes a practice can take years to develop. Sure you need to pay the bills. I don’t believe artists should be poor. For your work to sell and sell well, you need to make works that resonate deeply with people. You need to define who and what you are as the artist and build your collector base as you take them on your evolutionary journey as an artist. Objects of desire that people want from paper, glass, copper, concrete, flax, jewels, dust, or feathers, whatever your chosen medium is.
For me I spent three years working at it before I even showed an artwork. Everyone knew I was doing something a bit crazy and would ask what I was doing. But I never shared or showed work ’till I was happy. The first show sold really well. I have sold a lot of artworks since with many editions selling out. My collector base is global and my works include neon, ink, screen print, diamond dust, lead crystal, stainless steel, and paper. Even though photography is my chosen medium, all my art works are very sculptural and multi-facetted in their execution.
What role does the artist have in society?
Artists let their work do the talking. Artists are the protagonists in the play of life. Artists challenge. Artists take an alternate view. Artists can say things in a way no one else can. They can subtly question, reflect or inspire thoughts and emotional responses to societies cultural undercurrents that drive the complexities and neurosis of the human condition. An artist’s role in society is to reveal the truth. The reflection. The ridiculousness of it all. The futility. The utopian. The hope. The despair. An artist can make you think, cry, laugh, and hope without ever seeing you.
What is your dream project?
I’m doing it now. Everything I have ever done has led me to this point and prepared me, from my time on TV, performing, designing, fabricating. I put all these together in my practice. I am naturally an introvert so approaching complete strangers and asking them to pose for me is a huge challenge. I started on the streets of New York to strengthen my resolve and then went to India for a month, learning every moment on the journey. Cumulatively compiling experience and applying it in every situation. I intentionally create friction at times for myself or the person I am photographing. Friction can create a deep creative connection. Without friction there is no fire.
What project are you working on now?
My project ‘Peace in 10,000 Hands’. I am photographing a single white rose, an ancient symbol of peace, in the hands of 10,000 people from every country on the planet. My project has a purpose that people identify with in these times of media fueled terror and uncertainty. It is a very rewarding project that has put me in situations I would never have imagined. From boarders of warring nations, crocodile infested waters, the world’s most notorious and dangerous slums, sharing moments with a strangers on their death bed, to connections with people I would never have met. It is a rewarding and challenging journey.
What themes keep reoccurring in your work and why?
My aim is to capture an unguarded moment of humanity, to make the unseen seen. A visceral response, from the guts, from the heart. An experience that translates and cuts through barriers and shows on the face.
A portrait that the person has never seen of themselves. I am not trying make beautiful portraits. Just honest ones.
I have had a few collectors tell me they don’t include photography in their art collections, but they collect my work. I have intentionally focused on creating works that use photography in an almost sculptural or three dimensional way that expose people to photography in different mediums while maintaining my overarching theme. Pushing traditional boundaries, using aluminum, neon, different production techniques, LED and alternate substrates. Opening the door to photographic based artworks that people may have not necessarily considered for their collections previously.
In 2 sentences, teach us something we might not already know.
A portrait is a partnership between subject and photographer. They have to drop their guard and trust you, you need to trust your skill, then let the magic happen, just like a perfect dance.
What were you like at 15?
Quiet, and in love with art and photography.
What’s the most interesting think you’ve read or seen this week?
A reflection of a reflection of a reflection of an artwork on a freezing cold very still night. Complete silence. Seemed an impossible situation that required investigation. The alternate view.