Prophet Royal Robertson
Prophet Royal Robertson was born in Louisiana in 1936. As a young man, he migrated to the West Coast where he alternated between working in the fields and as a painter of signs. Then, he went back to his stomping grounds in order to take care of his dying mother and to marry, in 1955, Adell, who would give him 11 children.
This calm life, however rough, would be progressively devastated by a paranoid schizophrenia that Royal was suffering from. His obsessive jealousy and his delirious flashes ended up dividing his entire family and, as he went deeper into his solitude, the world seemed more and more hostile to him. From then on, he evolved into a prophet without disciples, resolutely placing himself in a mythical time-space continuum. His existence, from this period on, was cadenced by incessant trips between the intimacy of his home – whose entrance was bristled with warning signs – and the otherworldly regions in which he took solace.
Each of his “trips” seemed to result in a work of eschatological inspiration – a work always maintaining the trace of his wife’s supposed infidelities as a perpetuation of original sin, mixed with other furious imprecations and litanies of irremissible sins. Royal put his talent as a painter of signs to use in a pop gospel, illustrated and hysterical, with strident colors and hallucinated typographies. His calendars are like the chronicle of a magical time, punctuated with biblical verse and accompanied by visions that seem to come from comic books for the purpose of moral redress.
Ethereal ascensions, portraits of divinities or “Martian” aristocrats, futurist architectures identical to the “model homes” of a world yet to come, as if Royal Robertson, like a Moses of modern times, had come down from his planet carrying his own law tables.
On a quest for redemption – ours just as much as his own – Prophet Royal Robertson died in 1997, five years after Hurricane Andrew had taken his favorite refuge.
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.