From Cambodia to KMAC: Artist-in-Residence Tim Robertson explores the risograph

“Lions and Tigers” by Tom Robertson

High visibility exhibitions like “Poems for Every Occasion” and “Elsa Hansen Oldham: Muses” are the part of KMAC’s offerings that draw the most attention, but the museum is constantly offering the community other ways to engage, including workshops, poetry slams and the occasional guest artist.

KMAC’s current guest, Tim Robertson, is an artist focused on learning — and teaching the community — all about the risograph.

Executive Director Aldy Milliken says there are several reasons Robertson is a great fit for KMAC, noting one is the museum’s in-house community.

“We found him through connections made by KMAC director of education, Joanna Miller. Tim is particularly interested in working with the community on projects, leading workshops and sharing his knowledge,” he says.

Tim Robertson

Roberston started his professional life as a journalist and news photographer, working for several print newspapers.

“After that, my wife and I moved to Cambodia. She’s a social worker, and she was working in anti-human trafficking work,” Robertson tells Insider. 

Robertson always had done some art photography and mixed media, but he describes that as fun stuff done with friends, “goofing around.” Cambodia inspired him to do a lot more.

“I started meeting members of the arts community, and it was a really interesting time, because the artists there are kind of the first artists in their society since before the ’70s,” he says. “Because all the artists in the country were killed during the Khmer Rouge.”

While he was no longer goofing around with friends, the interactive aspect of his work continued and grew.

“I did a lot of collaboration there and started teaching workshops on different things,” says Robertson. “I feel like at that time, my art studio turned into more of a science lab. People would come there and they’d test something or try something. We were experimenting a lot and trying to learn to make things that weren’t available in Cambodia.”

Robertson and his wife returned to the United States about four years ago. The original plan was to stick around for a couple of years and then go back overseas. But that plan changed, and the duo are staying long-term. 

Untitled riso work by Tim Robertson

“We really love Louisville, it’s at a really interesting stage of a city’s life,” he says. “It has a really good feel to it right now. For me, the creative community here has been just so much fun. People are making cool work, but also people are friendly and interested in trying new things.”

That interest in trying new things echoes the time Robertson spent in Cambodia, in his “science lab.”

Early in his time in Louisville, Robertson became interested in the risograph. The copy machine is one of the first of the digital age, dating back to 1986. However, the bulky copier was a dicey purchase for an artist who would need to pay to have it shipped overseas.

But an artist making his living in Louisville long-term might just be willing to take the risk and invest in the machine. It took a while to find one to buy.

A risograph was invented in 1986. | Wikipedia

“I just got the machine in October … People will get to see me learning how to use a new tool in my practice and learning how to use it as a tool to collaborate with others,” he says.

KMAC’s catch phrase is “Art is the big idea, craft is the process,” so Robertson’s new exploration of an old process fits right in, according to Milliken.

“The risograph is also a really interesting tool we wanted to learn more about,” says Milliken.

The way Robertson explains it, the risograph is kind of like a high-tech, high-speed screen printer. Images are built one layer at a time, with each layer a different color.

Each layer gets created digitally on a master plate inside the machine, and then it’s used to make multiple copies. Then those copies are loaded back in “the riso,” as Robertson puts it, and a new master gets created, containing different portions of the image and a different color. The copies go through again. The cycle can be repeated multiple times.

Robertson’s residency isn’t KMAC’s first, but Milliken hopes to have them more often.

Untitled riso work by Tim Robertson

“It’s dependent on finding the right artist and the funding to host them,” says Milliken. “Hopefully we get a great community response to Tim being here that helps us find the right donor to keep the program consistent.”

Robertson’s exploration will pull in other artists in the community, including the painter Loren Myher. There also will be public workshops.

Robertson said one of the great things about “the riso” is the way it encourages collaboration and community.

“I think there is something about making something with friends that you can look at and say, ‘Hey, we made that.’ ”

Robertson will be in the studio Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. during KMAC’s regular hours. He’ll also work Tuesday and Friday evenings during the week. Robertson’s residency ends in January, so drop by and see him while you can. 

KMAC is still scheduling Roberston’s public workshops, so follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for updates.