Robert Otto Epstein didn't plan to be an artist. He studied political science at the University of Pittsburgh and later law in the UK. "I imagined myself becoming a writer. I went through a creative existential crisis and got tired of not being able to produce through writing so I stumbled upon visual art," says Epstein.
He arrived at the decision to paint patterns, like becoming an artist, by happenstance. After ordering a vintage knitting kit from eBay on a whim, he became entranced with the gridded instructions. Epstein then started to create his own grids. He plans all of his grid-based works out in advance, before he draws or paints any pattern. Using his bare hands and Photoshop, Epstein lays out the pattern. "I draw out a grid, or in this case, zigzags. It's an abstract extension of my writing. The line is the act of writing and the color put in is the content or whatever I am trying to communicate," Epstein says. When he paints, he uses no tape, in order to give his work a more organic feeling.
When he wants to oppose his pragmatic nature, Epstein employs chance. Instead of strategically planning the grids, Epstein will roll two dice. The number on one die will tell him where to paint, and the other number what color to use. "I am inclined towards planning things out," he says. "This was a challenge to myself to be okay without knowing in advance."
The zigzag paintings, like the one on this month's cover, are a combination of both his methods. Epstein starts by drawing a shape on the spot, and lets instinct lead him where to go next. "I'm not overly careful of where my pencil line goes. Once I come up with the basic constellation, I meet the dots in a very obtuse shape. Then I kind of repeat it on the inside and the outside." Like the chance paintings, the zigzags paintings were started as a way for Epstein to test his capabilities.
He uses the same eight colors in both his grids and his zigzags—vivid `80s hues, similar to 8-bit video game graphics. When he wishes to paint portraits, he varies his color palate, but only slightly.
For Epstein, there is also a nostalgic component to his work. "My father is a retired mechanical engineer; he would bring home drafts of whatever he was working on and I used to pretend to make my own drafts of anything. Pretending I was doing something important, which I am still kind of doing now. Making lines, making marks."
Robert Otto Epstein's work is on display through September 15 at Vassar College's James W. Palmer Gallery as part of the group show "If Color Could Kill: New Paintings from New York City." A reception for the artists will be held on Tuesday, September 6, from 5 to 7pm.