Artist Robert Sturman Captures The Pose of the Yogi
Living a devotee’s life has many manifestations, forms and actions. After even a brief glimpse at Robert Sturman’s stunning series of ecumenical devotional art, I experienced the universal power of love made possible with an intention to unify body, mind and soul. In Vedic terms, Sturman’s seva (selfless service) is his artistic creation art. Whether it is a series of portraits of Tibetan Monks in Kathmandu, or a still life of a cigarette vendor in Merida, Mexico, Sturman’s artistic third eye always focuses on the infinite nature of being human. Sturman’s gift is to produce realistic images of people who come alive through free-form visual poetry. Both representational and mysterious, this artist’s multimedia pieces reflect the alchemy of his signature blend of painting and photography.
Sturman grew up in an environment where his parents, Herbert and Beverly, cultivated an interest in literature and art. When Sturman was 14 years old, he received his first camera, a Pentax K1000 and his father persuaded him to enroll in a photography class. “I asked him what I was supposed to take pictures of,” Sturman recalls. His father responded with, “Anything that you love.” Little did he know that this wisdom would become the most significant advice he would ever follow; it is also the foundation of Eastern spiritual paths.
Sturman graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a degree in art with an emphasis in painting and drawing. He continued to develop his work as an artist with apprenticeships and further study in art school, as well as travel and time with his unique canvas.
He combines his studied disciplines of photography and drawing into one art. Sturman’s eye captures a still image with a Polaroid SX70 camera, and then his fingers deftly produce an energetic painting, infusing the moment with shakti, making something that might have been static, dance. His unique process includes carving into the wet and supple Polaroid Time Zero film surface of a photo he has taken at just the right moment, with just the right light. When the film’s surface is still maleable, he utilizes a variety of handmade tools until he feels the image has been manipulated and transformed to reach its ultimate potential.
“Everything is done on the spot while the image is still warm, so wherever I make a piece of art that is where I have to sit and do the carving.” The work-in-progress is later enlarged using an optimally high-resolution scanner and further processes through which none of the original light radiance or color luminosity is lost. Because Sturman chooses his subject matter in advance with its inherent color values in mind, his palette is extraordinary. Coupled with the impressionistic brushstrokes of Sturman’s hand implements, the result is a pure fusion of painting and photography that is quietly beautiful.
Sturman’s early work featured images both provincial and urban; his subjects were often street vendors, beggars or small Third World mise-en-scenes in Mexico. After Sturman’s initiation into the awareness of his own inner consciousness, he was introduced to a variety of spiritual teachers who would influence his art beyond any expectations. At 30, Sturman visited India where he was introduced to the teachings of Osho. “Most people know Osho as a mystic philosopher,” Sturman explained. “He was also a great painter and focused heavily on the principles of creative energy. This was what I had been missing in my education. I learned what it really meant to tap into the life force of creativity and it was in India that I feel I received the degree of education that the West had failed to recognize.”
Yoga became his art and each composition a visual manifestation of inner peace and meditation.
While staying in India for two months, Sturman’s work took on an entirely new consciousness and his images began to evoke a deep inner understanding of surrender and contentment. The experience of being in such a busy foreign space was filtering into his creativity and manufacturing the divine in startling compositions that included Buddhist stupas (sacred monuments) in Nepal and sadhus (yoga masters) all over India.
“Everywhere I went, people would stare at me and be interested in what I was doing,” Sturman says of his time in India. “I used an old Polaroid camera and it seemed every person that saw me wanted me to make a picture of them. People were begging for money, begging to practice their English with me and surrounding me when I would sit and do the carving of the photograph. I was thousands of miles away from home, and I was trying to survive in this wild, exotic and unfamiliar place.”
Just as any yogi learns how to release stress and awaken kundalini energy from a variety of postures and adjustments, Sturman’s art has evolved through the familiar learning process of trial and error. Though Sturman doesn’t proclaim to be a master of any specific meditation practice, the 38-year-old-artist uses his creativity to manufacture the balance most yogis manifest through sitting silently with japa (prayer) beads. “For me, meditation is about being quiet and it is available everywhere I go,” Sturman notes. “I like to be quiet. I like to be peaceful. I like to be awake and in harmony with life.”
Yoga is integral to his search for harmony. “I came to practice yoga a few years ago with the intention of being a healthy artist.
I have seen many artists live lives of self-destruction, wallow in darkness and [live out] the old story of being poor, unhealthy and desperate. I witnessed artists take their own lives through suicide and drugs. I never went down the road of self-destruction, but I knew it was time to rewrite the story of the artist.”
Through his commitment to living a happy life, nurturing self-respect and producing art from his inner vision, yoga became his art and each composition a visual manifestation of inner peace and meditation. “A regular practice of yoga helped me to think this concept into existence and live a life in which not only did I create works of art –– I created compositions that visually reflected my own life. In this way, yoga has brought me many blessings.” Yoga has brought blessings, including his wife, Marlize (pictured in red), a frequent and luminous subject in his work.
Today, Sturman draws on this inspiration by working on a new comprehensive body of work titled The Yogis: Poetry of the Gods. The photos and drawings in the collection do not involve traveling to the mysterious enclaves of our Earth, but are directly evocative of the experience of the sacred and express this artist’s gratitude. “My work with the yoga community has turned into an exciting project that is taking me places I have never been,” he relates. “The yogis are an amazing group of people who embody a poetry that is very rare and lovely. The new work is building a bridge between strength and grace.”
With an amused grin and a determined hint of serenity held boldly in every blessed suggestion, this evolving artist is here to make a positive difference in the world.
Polaroid no longer makes Time Zero film, the medium that Sturman uses as the canvas for his work. The expiration date on his supply is November, 2006. There’s no way to know if a picture will come out of the camera image intact or which photo will be his last.
In February of 2008, Polaroid announced that they will no longer be producing any of the instant film that has made them a household name, as they are switching to digital technology and printing from handheld printers.
When Robert Sturman is asked what he will do after his supply of Time Zero runs dry, he invokes a great visionary:“If they took away my paints I’d use pastels. If they took away my pastels I’d use crayons. If they took away my crayons I’d use pencils. If they stripped me naked and threw me in prison I’d spit on my finger and paint on the walls.” -Pablo Picasso
Robert Sturman has traveled the world creating portraits of people and places. His work has been commissioned by the Grammys, and the U.S. Olympic Committee. To view the wide range of his vision or contact him for a portrait, visit: RobertSturmanStudio.com.
Michael Mollura is a writer, bhakti and sacred music musician whose life is an embodiment of devotion. He regularly sends out a list of devotional events. [email protected]
By Michael R. Mollura