The Mask, Photographed

Storm Robbins: Genres of Beauty


STORM ROBBINS The Android 2021
Make-up photographic image, 1000 x 1000 mm.

Five hundred-odd years of self-portraiture tell us that there are still many avenues to explore. This probing has burgeoned with digital natives, as a plethora of options has emerged in the possible combinations of media. Auckland-based Gen Z-er, the 18-year-old Storm Robbins fronted up with a remarkable roomful of spunky self-images at Grey Lynn’s Grey Gallery last December. At a glance, their seductive larger-than-life size, glossy veneer and immaculate finish defy easy categorisation. Upon scrutiny, one realises each is a different photographic study of the artist, painstakingly made up, with prosthetics, then printed on Fujiflex di-bond aluminium, to produce rich colour and razor-sharp imagery. Further enhancement comes with fluorescent lighting in varying pastel hues set discreetly around each frame. The illumination suggests influence from Robbins’ background in video and film work—another contrivance designed to increase vibrancy.

Whether gutsy, grotesque, gentle, or graceful, each of the photographs greets the viewer with confidence, and reflects the subject’s self-assurance. Despite only two of the 15 faces looking directly at the camera, each possesses a poised intensity that compels, and then holds, the eye. Robbins candidly describes his childhood preoccupation with costuming, and epiphanic teenage discovery of the creative pleasures of make-up, and here in a delicious visual sweep, we see influences from animé to drag, surrealism to steampunk, Aladdin Sane to Mary Quant.

Importantly, he nullifies narcissism by framing each image as an archetype, an exploration of self in varying guises, beginning with the icily futuristic The Android. The voyeuristic gaze is likewise denied. Robbins is too staunch, too free-spirited, to allow easy objectification. The shots are cropped above the breast and fastidiously controlled by his lens. The Fay is green-skinned, elfin-eared, with jagged rhizomic root growth up the chest, yet has a winsome non- sexualised beauty.

The vanity and self-containment of The Aristocrat sees Robbins with a blond pixie cut, closed eyes, and a cherub- bedecked crown of spikes. The frisson however, is a meticulous painterly rendition of Fragonard’s rococo classic The Swing on his chest. With such details Robbins reveals a knowledge of art history, as he does in The Automaton, where a soft clock melting glossily across his clavicle might suggest a high-school brush with Dalí. This work, uniquely, has an inviting depth of field, with curious industrial copper oxide towers fading into the background, suggesting a steampunk mise-en-scène. Darker in tenor is The Forger whose tree trunk bust and animal skull mask is one of Robbins’ most skilful prosthetic designs, employing air-dry clay modelling and liquid latex. With rotting, honeycombed cheeks, a toadstool neck, this work has an ambitious, defiant anonymity.

Make-up photographic image, 1000 x 1000 mm.

STORM ROBBINS The Forger 2021
Make-up photographic image, 1000 x 1000 mm.

STORM ROBBINS The Automaton 2021
Make-up photographic image, 1000 x 1000 mm.

STORM ROBBINS The Aristocrat 2021
Make-up photographic image, 1000 x 1000 mm.