Robert’s icons span a wide spectrum, from completely traditional Orthodox images to images created for Native American, Black, or Asian peoples. Because he is best known for his innovative icons, people might be surprised to learn that his favorite images are actually traditional Orthodox icons.
In traditional Orthodox iconography, icons are carefully painted according to prototypes that have existed for hundreds of years. Artistic creativity in these icons comes from the deeply spiritual process of creating the icon, not from liberties taken with the way the subject is created.
Orthodox iconography might be compared to a musical performance. A classical musician plays a piece of music as its composer writes it. While he plays the same notes in the same order as any other musician, the feeling and emotion his performance evokes comes from within himself. He interprets the music. The same composition acquires a unique heartbeat with each musician who masters it.
The ancient icon prototypes carry the wisdom of tradition. Tried by time, they are timeless. Each time an iconographer paints them, they nourish him, just as they will the people who will pray before them.
It is different with new icons that have no prototypes. While they belong to the same genre as ancient icons, they move beyond what has been toward what might come to be. They have not been tried by time, but stand on the frontier and point in new directions. In time some may become part of the tradition, while others may not.
Robert paints new icons because he is a Franciscan. Franciscans minister at the edges of society and the Church, facing the future. Nourished as he is by Orthodox iconography, he struggles to adapt it for peoples and cultures that would find its riches otherwise inaccessible.