A life of art: Acclaimed Burrillville painter puts brush to canvas for more than six decades

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BURRILLVILLE – A panorama of breathtaking landscapes and still life-framed paintings cover the walls from floor to ceiling in a cozy woodstove-warmed artist studio in Harrisville.

A professional artist since the 1960s, multiple-award winning painter Gerald Robillard’s apparent love for what he does shines through in his bright eyes and warm smile.

Robillard’s realism style paintings seem to take the viewer away and into another world, with depictions such as a majestic sailboat bobbing on the blue Atlantic, a towering lighthouse guarding the rocky coast, sunlight drenching a charming cottage garden, or colorful lily pads enlivening a sleepy pond.

Glastonbury Arts in Connecticut on their website points to, “the soft moods and calming effects that he creates using light and shadow to capture the mood of the moment.” Robillard’s work can also be found on other sites such as WorthPoint.com and MutualArt.com.

Joy, enthusiasm and appreciation of beauty seem evident looking at life through the artist’s eyes. 

Another example is a scene of the dead of winter – Harrisville woods of icy streams and snow-frosted bare trees. The woods look sparkly and inviting for a stroll, despite the deep chill. 

“I walk every day and the sun just came out,” Robillard said of capturing the moment forever with his paints and brush. 

About another of his winter scenes, reviewer Jon Berg Fine Art wrote: “The peaceful work captures beautifully the peace of a mid winter New England day while the snow falls. One can almost hear the roar of the falls at right, typical of a mill pond. In olden days the water power would have powered the mill, possibly where textiles would have been made.”

“The richness I achieve comes from nature, the source of my inspiration,” stated French Impressionist painter Claude Monet, who is one of the artists Robillard particularly admires.

Sometimes when encountering nature or other scene that capture his artistic fancy, Robillard takes a photo, “just so I’ll remember what was there. Then, I put away the photo and paint from memory,” he says.

Other paintings of his are of harrowing scenes such as stormy waves overcoming a sailboat. 

That came from a docked boat he saw, and then imagined in a storm.

An avid sailor, he’s familiar with the boats and the tumultuous sea.

“Artistic license,” Robillard says, adds interest to the painting. “I like to do my own thing with it.”

Painting and art are emotional, he says, and a goal of Robillard’s as an artist is sharing what he feels.

He frequently hears from customers that his paintings evoke some feeling or another.

With nature and boats among his subjects, he likes plein air painting: that’s outdoors, although most of his work is done indoors. He works in acrylic paint.

“Acrylics dry fast,” Robillard said.

He said he’s been painting in acrylics since they came out, around the early 1970s and he likes to work quickly, “background and top to bottom.”

Robillard was drawing in childhood, and as a young man studied at the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts. He recalls that walking through the museum to get to the basement classroom was exhilarating. Looking at “all these fantastic paintings” was inspiring, he said. “You see things in each one.”

Of other painters, he said, “I love so many of them,” meaning there are too many for Robillard to list. Cezanne, Monet and Turner are a few favorites. “A work of art which isn’t based on feeling isn’t art at all,” Cézanne is said to have stated, which apparently Robillard relates to, and also like the great Post-Impressionist, the Burrillville award-winning artist has painted still life that contains apples.

Robillard’s creative talent is also applied to musical instruments.

“I paint guitars and I paint on guitars,” he said.

He’s not the only creative Robillard. It seems extraordinary artistic talent runs in the family.

Gerald Robillard paints guitars for his famous brother – Duke Robillard. He also listens to the legendary blues guitarist while painting. Gerald seems quite proud of his brother, singing his praises. In fact, the brothers seem mutual admirers.

A 2017 article in The Providence Journal about Duke, he deemed Gerald, “an accomplished painter.”

What’s more, last December, Blues Blast magazine, in an interview with Duke, reported, “His brother Gerald, ten years his senior, is a world-class, college-trained landscape and seascape artist.” 

That periodical’s 2016 review of The Acoustic Blues & Roots Of Duke Robillard notes about the recording, The insert also fronts a nice cover painting by Gerald Robillard.” 

Duke credits his big brother as a musical influence.

“When rock and roll came into being, my brother, who is 10 years older than me, had collected all the records of the great rock and roll artists of the time, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis,” said Duke in a 2021 interview with BluesJunctionsProduction.com.   

Gerald Robillard is also a guitarist, as is his son, musician Lincoln Poison, and other members of the family. Musicians are often on the road, and sometimes so are painters.

For decades, a major part of Robillard’s life was exhibiting at outdoor shows, including art festivals in Narragansett, Wickford, Warren, and Scituate, as well as other places in New England such as York, Penn., and Glastonbury and Mystic, Conn. He’s pleased to have had, “great patrons,” including people who have come from Pennsylvania and New Jersey to his exhibit at Mystic every year.

Robillard also exhibited at four day-long shows at malls, when malls were in their prime, he says. In fact, he did 50 mall shows a year in places such as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, and at Rhode Island’s own Warwick and Midland malls.

Doing shows, Robillard sold his art and says he immensely enjoyed meeting, “tons and tons of people.” 

Fifty-five years of doing shows was abruptly forced to end, however. 

Reaching his eighth decade of life in 2020, Robillard was eager for a new year of shows — when the pandemic hit and show after show was canceled.

Now at 82, he’s thinking about the possibility of doing outdoor shows this year, but he notes that exhibiting at shows involves bringing dozens of over-sized framed paintings to display, as well as taking hours to erect a sturdy tent. 

Meanwhile, while Robillard decides if he will once again do take his work on the road, he’s working on both more realism paintings and abstract painting, that’s he says is all about shapes and colors.

The sparkle in his eyes, smile on his face, and the lively energy with which he speaks of art seems to indicate Gerald Robillard is eager and enthusiastic about greeting the public again, and he’s as creative and talented an artist as ever after all these years.

See more of Robillard’s paintings at his website http://www.geraldrobillardartist.com, by appointment by calling (401) 568-7328, or contact him on social media at https://www.facebook.com/gerald.robillard.3.

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