by Poki Hampton
TWO ARTISTS COMBINING to make great art together is very unusual. One of the best known collaborations in recent history was the one between Andy Warhol and Jean-Michael Basquiat, who created Pop Art in the 1980s. Another is of the Abstract Expressionists Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg in the 1950s.
Local artists Cynthia Webb and Robert Labranche are the northshore’s own artistic collaborators. Cynthia says, “We met at Spring for Art last spring, while Robert was doing a demonstration painting at Tripolo Gallery. Several artist friends of mine and I were having an after party, and we invited Robert to join us. We were all visiting and talking art, and I decided to grab a canvas and some paints and said to Robert, ‘Let’s paint something together.’” That was the beginning of the partnership that joined two different artistic journeys.
Robert began painting and creating art at a very young age. His mother taught a painting and crafts group in their kitchen in Mid-City. From an early on, Robert wrote poetry and drew. He says, “We lived near the New Orleans Museum of Art, so we would go frequently. I had a thirst and hunger for art.” Robert studied psychology and art, but it was while taking one particular art course under a wonderful professor that he finally said, “This is who I am,” discovered his
passion, and began painting seriously. “My drawing and art expressed things I couldn’t say in words.”
Robert received his undergraduate degree from LSU and his Master of Art from North Carolina Greensboro. He went on to share his art through teaching at various schools, including Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond. He has exhibited in many art shows and galleries, and his work is found in private collections in the United States and abroad.
While drawing and painting figures, Robert identified with the German Expressionists, who used strong figures and intense colors in their works. Today, he combines his knowledge of 1,000 years of art history and 35 years in art with immeasurable talent to create his paintings. Robert is very spiritual, and each new piece begins with a deliberate intent. “My paintings start as soul and mental pieces. They evolve through a process of many media to become a unified whole, a larger perspective of my emotional and spiritual state of being.” His pieces have a Zen-like quality to them—he gathers images and does sketches, pulling them together cohesively and intellectually.
Cynthia was an administrator in higher education and a marathon runner when she was sidelined by an injury. While recovering, she began to take painting lessons at Art Time, with friends. After a few years of painting and experimenting, she and four like-minded friends formed a group and opened a studio gallery in Covington. She says, “I wanted to explore, to be free with the brush. Abstract art allows me to do that and in a different way—to trust my instincts and to be free from constraints. I can move the paint across the canvas in a free expression.” Cynthia’s work is inventive and intuitive, with wild abandon, using strong and deliberate marks. Her aggressively rich colors scream across the canvas in bold brave strokes, creating depth and rhythm in faceted forms. She is confident and fearless in her approach to each piece.
A strong proponent of the local arts, Cynthia’s work has been included in many events, such as recent showings at the LeMieux and Armbruster Galleries and the Three Rivers Art Festival; she is an artist in the Healing Arts Program at St. Tammany Parish Hospital and a member of the National Association of Women Artists. Her work is collected locally and throughout the United States.
About working with Robert, Cynthia says, “How this collaboration works, just cannot be. It is incredible that we even know each other, because we are such polar opposites.” In the beginning of their painting together, they were reactionary to each other, and the artistic process was full of creation and destruction. They have both evolved within the process, have learned about each other at the canvas, and now they artistically trust each other more. After collaborating for less than a year, they are incredibly attuned to each other—each has a passion for life, a joy that they want to show through their pieces.
“There is a lot of energy and emotion involved in this collaboration,” says Robert. “It’s one thing to create a piece in one media, by oneself. It’s a whole other thing to make it happen in multi-media and with another person.”
Their artwork combines all genres of art, a cacophony if you will, perfectly joined into one piece that is gutsy, creative and authentic. Abstract and organic elements collide in the fanciful botanical motifs that bring the essence of nature and combine it with intensively linear strokes in the colors of Catalonia, bright and bold, whipping across the canvas. It is a surprising mix of plein-air and strong contemporary lines. There is a simplicity and openness to the work, creating seriously pretty improvisational pieces using textures, indulging in the joyful hues of nature while still maintaining a modern aesthetic. “It is human nature to be drawn to the human face,” says Robert. “It’s up to each person to interpret a painting in his mind, creating conversation, forging a connection and gravitating to the great energy in each painting.”
Our cover art for this issue is titled The Visitor. Robert says, “The Visitor started out as a figurative piece, and when we started adding fabrics and textures, it evolved into a vase of flowers.” Combining aspects of nature and strong vivid colors, with bold abstract strokes, shows the collaboration at its best.
Cynthia and Robert work in oil, acrylic, charcoal, and watercolor, with texture from fabrics and found objects mixed in. They have had great success in fine-tuning and combining their two worlds. “We’re going to be painting partners for a very long time,” says Cynthia.
“One fundamental thing we see in each other is the pursuit and drive that we will not stop a painting until we are both satisfied with it,” says Robert. “Artistically, I want to strive for excellence and always push myself.”