By Allison L. |
April 18, 2022
Portrait of Robert Rivers by Rafael Tongol

“I never thought I’d be an artist, but I drew all the time…” says Robert Rivers, professor of studio art at UCF’s School of Visual Arts and Design. Born in Guntersville, Alabama, Rivers was encouraged to play football by his family. While he excelled at the sport, it was coaching and art that inspired him.

Earning a BFA from Auburn, Rivers held jobs in the field of graphic design and spent part of his summers working with animals. During a particularly defining moment of his early career, he recalls stepping inside the Chicago Art Institute and seeing Francisco Goya’s work in person.

“That’s the first time I’d ever set foot in a real museum,” Rivers says. “It was the first time I’d ever seen a Goya painting, other than reproduced in books.” Considered the most important Spanish artist of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Goya is one of Rivers’s greatest influences to this day.

The Hospital Prints, Goyaesque black-and-while images, predate The Promised Land, Rivers’s magnum opus. While the former was inspired by his mother’s hospitalizations, the latter is a tribute to his nephew Thomas who never came home from the war in Afghanistan. In the words of one his former MFA professors, Robert Croker, “[The Promised Land] is both a tribute to Thomas and a rumination of death in general, by violence in particular; the fragility and persistence of life; the uncertainty of an afterlife; the innocence of youth and the intensity with which our lives are bound to one another, regardless of the circumstance.”

Rendered in graphite, red pencil, oil paint, and washes made of tea and rust-colored acrylics, each panel of The Promised Land is more than 5 feet wide and nearly 3 feet tall and is infused with mythological references. “It is at once overwhelmingly terrifying and astonishingly beautiful,” says Coralie Claeysen-Gleyzon, associate curator at the Orlando Museum of Art.

Last year jurors at the Orlando Museum of Art awarded Rivers The Florida Prize in Contemporary Art and $20,000 in prize money for The Promised Land to which Rivers responded: “Winning the Florida Prize was one of the best nights of my life. A beautiful museum with beautiful people. It was a fantastic honor, and I was overwhelmed.”

Robert Rivers’s art has been displayed all over the world. Selected collections are housed in the National Gallery of Art and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. His work can also be found in the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts in Montgomery, Alabama and the Gallery of Art in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Currently he resides in Maitland with his wife, Peggy, and together, they operate Brookmore Farms where they share their lifelong passion of working with horses.

Click here to read the full story from Winter Park Magazine.

Featured image: Photograph by Rafael Tongol

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