A Touch Of The Islands

Scottsburg mural artist
Robison brings Cabana Joe's walls to life

By Ben Fronczek
Staff Writer

(February 2002) MADISON, Ind. – Joe Torline’s long-held vision for his new restaurant, Cabana Joe’s, was to create a tropical atmosphere to complement the food he would serve.

Carlyn Robison.jpg

Carlyn Robison

He needed an artist who would help him create the elements of this theme and bring them to life. He found that artist in Carlyn Fields Robison.
As Torline was putting the finishing touches on his restaurant in January, Robison was completing nearly three rooms of tropical-themed murals. The project has been ongoing since mid-December, but it is an enjoyable one for the Scottsburg, Ind., mural artist.
“What I am doing is setting a visual mood,” said Robison, 53. “I feel very pleased to have worked with such special people in such a fun place. They have allowed me to grow with my work and given me the freedom to go for it.”
Robison said the Cabana Joe’s murals have been her largest project to date. She has been composing murals for about six years, mostly in private homes. But her artistic inspiration dates back more than 40 years to a mural painter by whom she was inspired. She remembered her artistic calling coming at age 10. Her mother hired an artist to compose a mural in their Austin, Ind., home.
“I’d like to know that gentlemen’s name,” said Robison. “I would credit him now. His work fascinated me.”
From then on, she was hooked on painting.
“I didn’t play with dolls,” she said. “I made their homes and painted their rooms.”
Beyond painting, her artwork includes soft-sculpture dolls and hand-painted furniture. In the latter category, she has painted pieces of furniture for people to resemble or match a piece they grew up with that was handed down to them. Her exhibition resume includes the St. James Art Show in Louisville, Ky., and the Country Peddler and Country Folk Art shows.
Her mural work started with a style of art called tromp l’oeil. This is a French word meaning “fool the eye” because the whole premise behind the style deals with using two-dimensional images to create the image of three-dimensional.
In a way, it is similar to murals and backdrops at theatre productions, though Robison has taken it to new limits by creating this style for private homes.
For example, there is a home in which she has painted a grandfather clock that looks like it is enclosed in a small space. But as one draws nearer, what appears to be three-dimensional really is two-dimensional.
“It is visual trickery,” she said. “It is a particular style of painting which I suppose I have become quite skilled at.”
Her mural work can been seen all over Madison. In the Vail-Holt Funeral Home on Main Street she designed a mural that depicts an overview of Madison’s riverfront and historic church buildings in town. Many of the murals she has done in private homes have been featured in local home tours.
“The home tours were particularly good to me because a lot of people got to see my work,” said Robison.
Robison has developed a following over the past few years, especially by word of mouth from those who appreciate her work.
Last year Robison painted a large mural in the home of Tom and Mary Davee in the dining room of their Madison, Ind., home. It combined scenes from a book Mary liked with pictures from the couple’s European and Mediterranean cruise and their front yard fountain.
“She personalized it so much,” said Mary Davee. “It is a combination of so many things I really like. I enjoyed working with her so much. She is very talented.”
Torline’s wife, Cheryl, found out about her work by word of mouth.
“It is amazing. It has taken us to a new level,” she said. “We were trying to get a tropical feel through decor, and she has surpassed our expectations.”
Part of the work Robison did at Cabana Joe’s was a two-dimensional painting extending from an actual three-dimensional waterfall made from stone. The work on the waterfall was done by Bob Koestel of Waterfall Creations in Scottsburg, Ind.
As for Robison, her next project will be a mural in the building that now houses Miss Vivian’s Tanning Parlor, 107 Miles Ridge Rd. She has already created a mural for Miss Vivian’s in Scottsburg and plans to create a garden scene with Cherubs for the Madison building.
“She does outstanding work and was is so amazing is that she was not formally trained in art. Everything is self-taught,” said Vivian Gregory, who owns Miss Vivian’s and had Robison paint a mural at her previous location on Clifty Drive. Gregory first learned about Robison from her mother, who had Robison create a mural in her Scottsburg store, Victorian Hope Chest.
Robison said, “I’ve been very fortunate in that the people I’ve worked with are excited about my work. It evokes something special to them, and I really work with people to create what they envision.”

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