Evans 'Wisdom' Robinson Jr.: Everyday people

Folk artist looks outside his window

Folk artist Evans "Wisdom" Robinson Jr. paints buildings and people like two forces that just can't get along. In his scenes of big-city life, people gaze wistfully from windows in institutional apartment blocks or brood behind screen doors inside Auburn Avenue Victorians. Entrapment and longing rule these roosts; parents stroll with babies and couples share a romantic embrace while squeezed in an alleyway. But the overall mood conveyed in those figures frozen inside their apartment cages is of estrangement.

In many cases this self-taught artist's imagery is understandably crude: blocky, squared-off shapes, occasionally clunky portraiture, and a lack of perspective or depth. Robinson is tempted by saccharine and rudimentary symbols – he never met a songbird or a flower he didn't like.

But he's not oblivious. Because despite certain to-be-expected failings of technique and approach, Robinson's emotional content runs deep. Some of his works operate with that pure, earnest energy so characteristic of engaging folk art. More than that, his paintings are moody and thoughtful evocations of human alienation, suggesting a folky, African-American spin on Edward Hopper. Heartbreak lurks around every corner, and even the love notes and bouquets of flowers sitting on windowsills seem more than anything like failed attempts at a reconciliation or romance hovering elusive and bruised in the distance.

A native of Corteyou, Ala., who spent time in Chicago and now calls Doraville home, Robinson seems especially attuned to the blossoms of sadness and sweetness that erupt in even the most dismal big-city apartment blocks. Outside My Window captures that familiar spasm of longing familiar to both city dwellers and the brokenhearted. (The men in Robinson's paintings betray their romantic angst by seeing pretty women and happy couples everywhere.)

Robinson is on less confident and persuasive ground when he tackles conventional still-life imagery of flowers or when he tries for overt symbolism – as in a painting where a man appears to play a chess game with death. It is instead in his easygoing, expressive scenes of daily city life that the artist finds his ideal view.

Outside My Window: Evans "Wisdom" Robinson Jr. Through Nov. 25. Free. Wed.-Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. U*Space Gallery, 439 Edgewood Ave. 404-653-7331. www.uspacegallery.com.

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