Illustrator Donald Robertson on Great Jones Street

The Instagram-famous illustrator opens up his work to interact with passersby

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In recent years illustrator Donald Robertson has made a name for himself with technicolor drawings of toothy lipstick smiles, cartoonish animals and fashion industry icons like Anna Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld (as well as his coworkers at Bobbi Brown Cosmetics, where he’s Head of Creative Development), which he posts on Instagram in a constant and colorful stream for all to admire. Though Robertson’s social media presence has garnered quite a following, it wasn’t until this summer when he met gallerist Eric Firestone that the artist finally had a formal art setting to show his work. “Eric sort of took a gamble on me,” explains Robertson. Though the gamble payed off, as the Eric Firestone Gallery show in East Hampton was a success. “What I was able to do through Instagram was drive a lot of people through his gallery, and what he was able to do was to take all these images that look kind of dinky on my phone [and] set them up in a space that gave them a new sense of weight.”


After the success of the initial show, the duo decided to expand their efforts into NYC where they’ve collaborated on a two-month residency on Great Jones Street, which will be open to the public with walk-in hours and appointments. Their unorthodox open door policy is a testament to Robertson’s gregarious personality and also the nature of his process, which can only be described as frenetic and incredibly absorbing.


“Working on pieces like this gets a little lonely, when you are by yourself in a studio,” says Robertson as he works his way across a piece armed with a paintbrush. “What I love about this is that I can be chatting, or creating, or shooting with people here and the whole studio becomes this kind of dynamic art Instagram hang out.” Robertson’s unique stream-of-consciousness style enables him to bounce from creating cartoons for major labels to playful interpretations of ready-to-wear looks before they make it all the way down the runway.


While never restricting himself to just one thing, it seems Robertson’s latest fascination is Canal Street knockoffs and the peculiar double-standard that enables artists to appropriate brand labels while hawkers in Chinatown are forced to sell their wares in back rooms or from their bedsheet galleries. “I am doing it for all the guys who can’t,” laughs the artist, who is styling an Instragramable shot of his latest piece, a bright green wall dotted with dripping Comme des Garçons hearts.


“I have yet to receive a cease and desist notice.” And, from the constant inquiries that have been bombarding both Robertson and Firestone’s inboxes, it appears more likely that a brand would want to buy one of his imitations rather than proceed with legal charges. “A lot of brands try to make themselves seem artsy, but they fake the art part,” says Robertson. “But here, we are making art and seeing how brands and new sources of inspiration can be folded into the mix.”

Donald Robertson‘s open studio is located at 9 Great Jones Street, #2 in NYC, and will remain open through 19 November 2014.

Images by Kat Herriman