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Royal Robertson

American, 20th century.
Born 1936, St. Helena Parish, Louisiana; died 1997, Baldwin, Louisiana.


Royal Robertson was born on October 21, 1936 in St. Helena Parish, Louisiana. With the exception of a short stint in California, he lived in Louisiana his entire life, mostly in Baldwin. Robertson left school after completing the eighth grade to work as an apprentice to a sign painter, a skill he would exploit to dazzling effect later in life. In 1955, Robertson married Adell Brent, and they had eleven children. The marriage lasted roughly twenty years, but Adell eventually left Royal and moved to Texas. The experience clearly devastated Robertson whose explicative-filled rants became a hallmark of his work.

Aimed at his community, his ex-wife Adell and would-be trespassers, Robertson’s property was completely dominated by confrontational signs that mingled biblical quotations with the “Prophet’s” threats and visions. These signs included warnings that "whores" and "bastards" should stay away and contained misogynistic messages denouncing "bad" women, often addressed to his ex-wife. The house’s interior was decorated with drawings pinned to every available surface. Many drawings inside his home were also of Robertson’s ex-wife, and the interior included a number of shrines dedicated to her. The house and yard were, unfortunately, destroyed by a hurricane in 1993.

Robertson typically worked on poster board, paper, or wood using magic markers, tempera paint, colored pencils, ballpoint pens and glitter. He studied the Bible which he consistently referenced alongside images and texts from pornographic magazines, comic strips, and works of science fiction. He was also preoccupied with numerology and biblical prophecies of the apocalypse. These interests were manifest in images of aliens, spaceships, fire breathing monsters, snakes, architectural drawings of houses and temples, futuristic cities, superheroes, and portraits of Adell often identified with Jezebel and other Amazon-like "harlots.” His colorful drawings are often covered in rambling texts, sometimes in speech balloons, about "adulterous whores" and unfaithful spouses. Some drawings reference precise and painful moments in his life, particularly his wife's unfaithfulness to him. Robertson additionally produced calendars chronicling memories of his marriage with short notations scribbled in each date's block. Much of his work included images that conveyed a sense of the artist, a self-proclaimed Prophet, pitted against the forces of evil.

- Phillip March Jones


Selected Exhibitions

2017, Known/Unknown: Private Obsession and Hidden Desire in Outsider Art, Museum of Sex, New York

2015, System and Vision, David Zwirner Gallery, New York

2014, Royal Robertson, Rizomi Art Brut, Turin

2011, Prophet Royal Robertson: NO PROUD BASTARDS, White Columns Gallery, New York

2010, The Museum of Everything, Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, Turin

1997, The End Is Near: Visions of Apocalypse, Millenium, and Utopia, American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore

Selected Collections

African American Museum, Dallas
American Folk Art Museum, New York 
Art Museum of Southeast Texas, Beaumont
Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham
High Museum of Art, Atlanta
Louisiana State Museum, New Orleans
Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson
Museum of Everything, London
New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans 
Rockford Art Museum, Rockford 
Smithsonian Museum Of American Art, Washington, D.C. 
St. Jame Place Folk Art Museum, Robersonville

Selected Bibliography

Smith, Roberta, "Prophet Royal Robertson: 'No Proud Bastards' 'Project Stewart Home'," New York Times, November 17, 2011.

The Museum of Everything, exhibition catalogue, Electa & Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, Milan/Turin, 2010.

Arnet, Paul and William S. Arnett, Souls Grown Deep, Vol. 1: African American Vernacular Art of the South, Tinwood Books, Atlanta, 2000.

The End Is Near: Visions of Apocalypse, Millenium, and Utopia, exhibition catalogue, American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore, 1997.

"Contemporary Apocryphal Writings: Royal Robertson's Contributions to the Scriptures," Raw Vision, No. 13, Winter 1995/1996.

Scalora, Sal, "Royal Robertson," Art Papers, No. 5, Vol. 8, September/October 1994.

Maresca, Frank and Roger Ricco, American Self-Taught: Paintings and Drawings by Outsider Artists, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1993.

Rosenak, Chuck and Jan Rosenak, Museum of American Folk Art: Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century Folk Art and Artists, Abbeville Press, New York, 1991.

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