Profile of Robbi by writer Kathleen F. Miller

ArticlesCity Arts Feature Nov 2009 Copy

Profile of Robbi by writer Kathleen F. Miller

A profile of Robbi Firestone in 2012
by Writer Kathleen F. Miller for the University of Washington at Tacoma
Read more pieces by her on 
Kathleen’s Website

When celebrated artist and UW Tacoma graduate Robbi Firestone enters a room, all heads turn to take in her dark flowing hair and dancer’s grace. But it is her unique portraits that truly captivate an audience. Firestone works with clients across the country, creating her unique spirit capture oil portraits. Her work, featured in galleries and books, has been described as a mid-century brushstroke reminiscent of Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, or Alice Neel, with an Impressionistic or Fauvist color sensibility. 

Among those who have been lucky enough to have sat for a portrait by Firestone, is Grammy winning blues musician Keb’Mo’. He describes the artist’s portrait of him as “Robbi looked into my soul and pulled it out. I think that is pretty cool, Robbi’s interpretation of my image. She caught the way people see me, kind of vulnerable and transparent, not necessarily the way I see myself. I looked at the portrait and I met myself for the first time.”

Trained at the prestigious Parsons School of Design and the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, Firestone choose to complete her BA at the UW Tacoma after relocating to the area with her husband David. She acknowledges the community’s contribution to her career. “The city is profoundly rich in people committed to building a sophisticated, arts oriented culture in Tacoma.”

Firestone advises emerging Tacoma artists, “Get involved with the Tacoma Art Museum. The Tacoma Art Museum is “the new Generation of Museum”, with today’s contemporary needs fulfilled by the programs TAM institutes. I also recommend the Artist Trust and the EDGE programs, which teach artists solid business principles and practices necessary to support making a living in the arts.”

Firestone’s process for creating portraits is unique and deeply informed by her training as a Licensed Spiritual Practitioner. She understands the discomfort many of her subjects can initially feel of, as she puts it, “just sitting there while someone stares at you.” So she takes a very different approach, including spending a full day with the client prior to working on a portrait. “ I feel it is my honor for someone to sit before me, totally open to being observed and captured on canvas. My highest intention is that my muse feels uplifted, empowered, emboldened by their portrait. I want her or him to feel beautiful. I meditate for a full day before I paint someone in order to clear out my mental judgments about that how he or she should look. I am only interested in capturing how they feel within themselves, about themselves and how they see themselves.

Although Firestone is relocating her studio and gallery space to Santa Fe later this year, she will continue to have a home with her husband in Seattle.  She says, “I have made many good friends and have a strong client base here in the Pacific Northwest, as well as much respect for the arts institutions here. My husband’s family has been here for 134 years, so we will never permanently leave Seattle. It’s home.”

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