Tamara Luuk

Curator's foreword

“Movement, with its every position in every thinkable constellation existing in each passing instant, is the unchangeable frame of the moment.” – Robin Nõgisto

Robin’s quote, chosen as the motto of this text, is good for describing the constant flow of moments in both his paintings and video works: it is the progression of 24 frames per second on the screen, or the time barely sufficient to dip the brush in paint. In our conversation, the artist says: “My paintings are captured on canvas spurred by a state suspense where black is bottomless and falling only lasts a moment. /…/ I do not make sketches or plans for my paintings, yet certain things filmed must also work on paper. Filming on the spot and editing later are two different situations. In painting, as in film, you have to see the whole picture and be ready to change things on the go. Because even when I have a blank canvas in front of me, and I can precisely visualise the whole thing, it only lasts until I start painting. What follows is the repairing of what was already spoiled.”

Robin Nõgisto’s music videos and animated short films, the sometimes blues-like and lyrical, sometimes heavier rock rhythms of his one man band, as well as his usually large-scale colourful paintings filled with action, are all like dynamic guns that sometimes shoot madly, but always remain simple and clear at the same time.

His creative path cannot be explained linearly, and the flow of his stories, neither in sound nor in images, is not based on words. Just as Robin prefers to observe and listen, rather than read or talk, then so is the “readability” of his pictures entirely visual. His video works too are highly visual, and their laconic verbal parts are usually concentrated in the titles. Robin’s only longer piece of poetry of a personal nature comes from the text accompanying his exhibition at the Hobusepea Gallery in 2016, showing that he is indeed able to verbalise things, but has come to prefer silence. “When I paint, words and explanations make things more confusing. Perceptions and feelings and words are separate universes,” Robin says in response to my questions.

Robin Nõgisto is old-school, the lone wolf artist, and in his works the caring attitude towards the world, carried by community perceptions, associated to the fragility of personal everyday stories and formulated by the curator, manifests itself differently from his peers who often seem to dissolve into this world as naturally as they embraced it. On his murals and canvases, the furry and hairless, feathered, and wingless creatures roar loudly and cheerfully, drunk on life and existence. Every one of them has their own agenda; everyone is given a chance. The non-hierarchical freedom in their appearance and the hybrid nature of their bodies is too self-assertive to be associated with a fragmented post-truth worldview. Just as the giant lizard in Nõgisto’s painting, and the tiny green dinosaur on the screen of a computer disconnected from Internet, know that they belong together, the artist himself is convinced that “the world I paint does indeed exist somewhere.” Standing before us is a one man band with monumentally visionary narratives and bold images, leading us to a place where the past and the future intertwine. This helps the artist as well as the viewer to overcome the perplexity of getting through in the present.

I know stories of lovers, artists, and writers who have become attached over and over again, looking for a reflection of a lover in several others. They paint a single picture or write a single story for their entire life. Passionately eager, they always start with fresh enthusiasm, letting familiar characters and repetitive thought patterns slip into their lives and activities. As limitless as creation, then limited is the most passionate creator, teaching us the simple human truth: If you already have a sparrow in your hand, hold it gently. “I’m trying something different in each work,” Robin says unrolling old canvases and realising a moment later, “oh look, there is the same fellow again.” For someone who is in love with love, it opens like a diamond with its numerous sparkling facets; the glare and oblivion are a prerequisite for the freshness of reunions. “Ignorance is a fertile ground, and sometimes I seem to surprise myself the most,” Robin says.

I know another story about a smart but lazy boy, who after writing a dictation without punctuation marks added lines of commas, periods, exclamations, quotes, and question marks at the end the text, and ended his exercise with a message to the teacher: “Please insert these where appropriate!” Like the force of nature that leaves behind hints for restoring the devastated landscape, Robin’s paintings offer colours, lines and characters as building blocks to the viewer. Sounds and films present the rhythm for the ongoing vibration of the things heard and seen, giving us the strength to embrace our seemingly insane dreams.

Robin Nõgisto was born in 1992 in Tallinn. His early Wow! moments came from the music around him (“/… / I was thinking I would do it differently myself; I would do rock’n’roll!”) and from admiration for his artist aunt who studied at the State Art Institute at the time (“… I had no idea what art was!”). Later, after entering the Viimsi Children’s Art School at the age of seven, his desire to study at the Estonian Academy of Art became stronger and finally came true. In addition to Jaan Toomik and Vano Allsalu, the painting department of the Academy at the time offered alternating guest lecturers (Mihkel Ilus, Rait Rosin, and others). Robin liked it; he was able to appreciate them all and got excited with the work of Marko Mäetamm and Peeter Allik.

Although the rebellious 1990s were over, their creative and destructive vibe had accompanied Robin since his childhood and made his life difficult as a teenager, because times had changed. The hippie-like mentality, psychedelic experiences of “tripping”, restlessness, and the constant search for inner balance led him to explore the past as well as the future. Things were more complicated with the present. Therefore, he did not finish his bachelor’s studies, which commenced in 2011, before 2017.

Robin had already tried wall painting, animation, and music making before entering the Academy of Arts. The first painting in his portfolio dates from 2011 and the first film from 2013; his first curated group exhibition took place at Vaal Gallery in 2012. These were followed by solo exhibitions in Kelm and Hobusepea Galleries, and the visual design for the oratorio composed by Peeter Vähi, “In the Mystical Land of Kaydara”. It seems that the preconditions were created for his smooth entry into the art field, yet the young artist refused to take the necessary logical steps. His reaction to being nominated for the 2017 Young Artist Award competition was unexpected: “… it had a devastating effect /… / any ranking has a devastating effect: who wins the prize and who is left without. I try to avoid it…“ As to the master´s degree, Robin did not apply for it.

After graduating from the Academy of Arts, he has only held a few solo exhibitions (at the Art & Tonic Gallery in Tartu and Ars Project Room in Tallinn) and exhibited his work with those of the late Peeter Allik at Tartu Department Store. Robin only performs regularly at traditional annual and overview exhibitions; his pictures can be found on online platforms, and his film and music productions on YouTube and Soundcloud. Although he has made only three murals that qualify as street art (in 2019–2021 in Tallinn, Vilnius and Kohtla-Järve), his large-scale paintings and their busyness have led him to be treated as a graffiti artist. At the Tartu Young Art Auction, Indrek Grigor described Robin’s paintings as “Basquiatesque” (2015) and saw the canvases of the artist with a “street art background” as “comic-like” (2017).

Robin Nõgisto’s music and film works run in parallel with his paintings. “When words end and hands start to wave, and nothing is no longer able to explain itself, it becomes clear that painting is supreme,” he writes in the text accompanying the Hobusepea Gallery (2016) exhibition. When I ask him about his future plans, I receive the answer: “The future will take different forms, but the idea behind it remains the same: To be able to create! /… / Painting offers me support even when things get out of hand; I see great hope in it. The same goes for making movies and music. /… / They are all in one realm. Rock’n’roll and painting belong together.”

Robin is exceptionally masterful at making large-scale pictorial compositions without any preliminary sketching. His simple music videos and animations too have a solid effect. Robin’s rock music doesn’t care about the complex improvisations characteristic of derivatives, but rather stays close to its robust spring, where the water is clean, and where those who are no longer with us used to drink. Of course, this spring has been traditionally flowing in English, and so it does in Robin’s work.

It seems so natural and easy to get excited about Robin, yet it is hard to write about him, and it has indeed been done rarely. Jaan Elken wrote in his review published in Sirp cultural weekly in July 2020: “Nõgisto performs on the global market of ideas with worn-out, somewhat canonical means of expression. Only the visuals consumed by the fans of hard rock could perhaps get more rigid than that. /… / Art compiled from pieces of entertainment culture is like a terrorist meta-monster, visual trash.”[1] Robin seems to be out of competition for the co-artist and critic who is well aware of his position and the rules of the game. Elken doesn’t delve into the fact that Nõgisto doesn’t care about the competition, nor does a large part of his generation. The intellectual author has his own agenda, which does not coincide with that of the intuitive artist; the metrics on one side, and absence of these on the other are not sufficient to solve a shared problem: there are no alternatives because there is no mainstream.

And you better start swimmin’

Or you’ll sink like a stone

For the times they are-a changin[2]

Indeed, Robin has zero knowledge of the moves on the socialisation chessboard. He addresses the outside world in his own language, shouting where others whisper. These are neither speeches, habitual communication nor aesthetic statements, but a way of being, driven by the sensitivity of a more powerful explosive within himself. It doesn’t matter whether or not it belongs to the art scene. Whatever helps Nõgisto the artist to be in balance with who he is matters. And if it is pop culture, then all hail to it!


[1] Jaan Elken. Popmaal ja kontseptualism Ars Factorys. Sirp, 5 June 2020.

[2] Bob Dylan. The Times They Are A Changin’ (1964).