Royal Robertson spent most of his life in Louisiana with his wife and eleven children. A sign painter by training, his paranoid schizophrenia triggers in him a prodigious creative fever. Ethereal ascents, portraits of deities, futuristic architectures alike “show houses” of a world to come, it is as if he had descended from his planet, carrying his own Tablets of Law. Featured in countless international collections, such as the Smithsonian Museum of American Art (USA) or the Musée national d’Art moderne (Pompidou), his work was presented in 2018-19 in the travelling exhibition Into The Unknown, produced by the Barbican (London) and curated by Patrick Gyger.
“Prophet” Royal Robertson was born in Louisiana in 1936. As a young man, he migrated to the West Coast where he worked alternately in the fields or as a sign painter. He later returned to his homeland of Louisiana to care for his dying mother and to marry Adell in 1955, a woman who would ultimately give him 11 children.
This peaceful, albeit tough, life was gradually devastated by the paranoid schizophrenia from which Royal suffered. His sickly jealousy and delusional outbursts eventually broke apart his family and, as he became more and more lonely, the world became more and more hostile to him.
Royal, a self-anointed prophet without disciples, lived resolutely in a mythical space-time. His existence was chiefly punctuated by the incessant travels back and forth between the intimacy of his home -whose access is bristled with warnings- and the extraterrestrial lands from which he drew his consolation.
Each of his “journeys” seemingly gave rise to a work carried by an eschatological breath. On their surfaces, Royal tracks evidence of his wife’s supposed infidelities as the perpetuation of original sin, combined with other furious condemnations and litanies of unpardonable trespasses. Royal used his skill as a sign painter at the service of a pop gospel, both historical and hysterical, with strident colors and hallucinatory typography. His calendars seem to chronicle a magical version of time, punctuated with biblical verses and accompanied by visions that seem to emerge from comic books in the service of moral authority and clarity.
Ethereal ascents, portraits of deities or “Martian” aristocrats, and futuristic architecture that appear as “model homes” for a world to come, it is as if Royal Robertson, like a Moses of modern times, had come down from his planet bearing stone tablets with commandments of his own. In search of redemption -ours as well as his own- Prophet Royal Robertson died in 1997, five years after Hurricane Andrew destroyed away his home and preaching haven.
Represented in the largest collections in Europe and the United States, Royal Robertson is a major figure in art brut.
Preface : Pierre Muylle
Foreword : Christian Berst
Catalog published to mark the exhibition Prophet Royal Robertson : space gospel, from October 27th to November 19th, 2016.