Robert Bingaman’s large-scale paintings of Pools present a landscape that is both mysterious and familiar, with alluring shapes and perspectives that invite the viewer in for a closer look. The pools are deep and motionless, but their surfaces hum with life, with cosmic breath, with shimmering lights that evoke the more subtle colors hidden in the darkness.
Bingaman began Pool 1 in graduate school, but it remained in storage until nearly a decade later, when his residency at Studios Inc provided him with enough space to work with more than one painting at a time. As he revisited the pools, Bingaman found them taking shape naturally, clearly — as if the images, while sleeping, had grown even more vivid and magnetic.
Since 2013, the pools have appeared in group exhibits at Kemper in the Crossroads, Haw Contemporary and Studios Inc, as well as being featured in a solo show at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art. After completing nearly a dozen Pools, Bingaman felt a professional obligation to move on to new subjects. But deep down, he believed that there was more to explore.
In Pools 14 through 17, the viewer is even closer to the water, a shift in perspective that feels more intimate, even dangerous. At 13 feet across, these pools are also the largest to date, but their thin profiles resemble those of a movie screen, giving the painted image a more cinematic, conceptual quality. These tensions — between lightness and weight, imagination and image, nearness and distance — are part of what give the pools such a unique sense of place.
For most Americans, swimming pools are not just a symbol of luxury, but an arena of shared experience. You might recall a summer visit to a bustling municipal pool, a quiet solo swim at a hotel after midnight, or a raucous high school party in the yard of a friend whose parents were out of town. “Those are the best nights,” Bingaman says, and the fact that your stories don’t overlap doesn’t matter — the pools are large enough to contain any number of memories of leisure, youth or weightlessness.
At the same time, these are no ordinary, earthly pools. The lights are on and the steps are visible, but around them there is only darkness — a nourishing void that challenges our notions of positive and negative space. Instead of being disoriented by all the space, the viewer feels calm and centered. The vastness allows one’s thoughts to travel without interruption, and the result is a profound sense of promise and possibility.
Perhaps the most significant element in the pools is the dimension of time. For the artist, the pools require many hours of finding the right shape and perspective, preparing the canvas, and completing the painting itself. While Bingaman has a clear idea of how he would like each pool to look, there are no guarantees, and only after many hours of quiet dedication to the process is he able to arrive at a finished image — an image that itself feels timeless.
“There’s always been something about the Pools that speaks to where I want to be,” Bingaman says. “There’s a magic there, and I believe it was put there. I didn’t create it, but it’s a phenomenon that, if I’m successful, I can tap into.”
That same magic is available to anyone who spends time with the pools, who lets their eyes adjust to the light, colors and textures. To spend time with the pools is to accept an invitation, to be drawn into an atmosphere of memory and reflection, to travel to destinations only the viewer can determine.
- Lucas Wetzel