Robert Ernst Marx

I treasure the studio visits I’ve had the good fortune to conduct since 2013 in my role at Main Street Arts. As a curator, it is incredibly helpful to see work in progress in its natural habitat and to greet artists on their home turf. I’ve enjoyed many hours talking about art and motivations for making it, personal histories, studio ‘shoptalk’, artists who we collectively know or admire, and so much more.

Artist and curator in artist studio
Robert Marx and Bradley Butler in Robert’s Studio, November, 2018. Photo taken by Sarah Butler, Main Street Arts director of operations

As a painter, a visit to Robert Marx’s studio was as inspirational as it was educational. There’s something special about getting the chance to talk about painting with someone who’s been doing it for longer than I’ve been alive. Robert would always talk about his work but not for too long and would only go so deep into a conversation about it. What he had to say was already there on the canvas. The things I loved to hear him talk about weren’t as much about the content of the work but about his process. Through continuous manipulation of the surface of the canvas, Robert would subtract as much as he would add. He was always sanding through layers of oil paint to reveal parts from previous compositions.

While I paid many visits to the studio, he usually wasn’t painting while I was there—aside from one visit to his old studio at Anderson Alley in 2016—but I have heard from others that the longer he worked, the more likely it would be that he forgot you were there! He was able to keep distraction at bay and immerse himself fully into his work and this is evident, especially in his paintings. 

No! 2010 (left) and No Regrets 2020 (right) by Robert Ernst Marx

His work was ever-evolving—often, finished paintings would be reworked or repainted all together. Taking some of the paintings in this show as examples, No Regrets was once called No! and Dim-sided Duncan once looked a little more like a straightforward portrait of a cleric.

two paintings by the artist, Robert Ernst Marx
Dim-sided Duncan 2013 (left) and 2018 (right) by Robert Ernst Marx

On a studio visit, I would usually try to photograph paintings as they were in progress. I found that they change so much over the course of their creation and as a painter myself, I found it so interesting to see his creative process. 

In progress: Stilling the Human Voice, November 2018

After Heavy Metal was installed and after speaking with so many people about Robert’s work and his unique process, I found myself curious of how many images I had taken at various studio visits over the past few years.

painting by Robert Ernst Marx
Stilling the Human Voice by Robert Ernst Marx (Left: 2012 version, Right: 2019 version)

One painting in particular, Stilling the Human Voice—the largest in the show—turned out to be in progress during a November, 2018 studio visit. The records in Robert’s archive and the date listed on the inventory sheet at the gallery indicated that the painting was from 2012. While the painting was first done in 2012, I found an image from my visit in 2018 and this painting was not yet finished. The finished result, seen in this exhibition has a similar composition but overall a bit less rigid and static. I don’t know his intent with repainting this piece in particular but I feel that he wasn’t satisfied with his statement from 2012 and felt he could say it more effectively in 2018–2019.

paintings and sculpture in an art gallery
Installation shot of Stilling the Human Voice in the exhibition, Heavy Metal (2020)

What was he saying with this painting and why did he choose to repaint it? Only Robert knew… Perhaps he was further contemplating the importance of thinking before speaking; or speaking through actions instead of yelling from a soap box. In Robert’s own words, “we are trapped by the conventions we have chosen to impose upon ourselves.” While this speaks more to the themes in his work, it’s also interesting to think of this line in his artist statement in relation to the creation of the work itself. His repainting and reworking of canvases—sometimes over and over—was a way to break with conventions that were self-imposed. He developed a distinct way of painting and spent decades working within the confines of his own process, but he was always shifting, changing, refining and evolving.

Robert Marx studio
Remembrance of a Graveled Past—in progress in Robert’s “outdoor studio” on September 23, 2019. This is the largest painting from 2020 in the exhibition.

I feel honored to have known Robert and to have been able to visit his studio so many times. I am appreciative of the way that he worked and for the unanswered questions in his paintings. Whether the questions are about his motivations for repainting a canvas or the scrambled letters at the bottom of a painting that seem to spell a word, the questions that remain keep the conversation going.

 Heavy Metal runs through Friday, January 8, 2021 and can also be seen on the gallery’s interactive exhibitions page:

Recent Posts

Constellations at Main Street Arts, January 16–February 26, 2021


As we enter the final week of the three person exhibition, Constellations I find myself revisiting the work by Mizin Shin, Sara Baker Michalak, and

Read More »

Robert Ernst Marx

I treasure the studio visits I’ve had the good fortune to conduct since 2013 in my role at Main Street Arts. As a curator, it

Read More »

Laura Minor

My name is Laura Minor. I am an artist and art educator living in Hamburg, NY.  I studied photography at the Fashion institute of Technology and

Read More »
In progress photos of the making of Deterioration.

Emily Levack

Born and raised in Wisconsin, I have always loved the Midwest landscape and all of the beautiful elements that nature has to offer. I am

Read More »
Amber Hamblin in her studio

Amber Hamblin

I was born and raised in San Diego, California but now live about twenty miles east of my childhood home in a city called El

Read More »
Brent Pafford, POPJCT, RUFF CUT, Porcelain, Glaze, Resin, Glitter, Epoxy, Pyrite—included in The Cup, The Mug 2020

Brent Pafford

I grew up on a family farm in Rock Hill, SC and completed my BFA at Winthrop University and an MFA from Clemson University. Since

Read More »

3 Responses

  1. What a joy to see more of Robert’s work in this blog. His passionate and sensitive compositions reflect his heart and understanding. I have sent a note through your contact us link, I look forward to hearing from you. Be well and safe.

  2. Robert, we are so happy to hear that you are enjoying the online exhibitions! Given the current state of things, we need to find the silver lining and realize the benefits that have come out of reimagining how we provide our programming. We hope you continue to enjoy the programming remotely!


    Brad and Sarah Butler, directors

  3. As a resident of Solstice Senior Living in Fairport without transportation, I am looking forward to many more online visits to the gallery.Thre will soon be a mosest donation in the mail.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *