Robert J. Russell sorts through artwork Tuesday at the Downtown Handmade gallery at 178 Lisbon St. in Lewiston. The showing, “Image and Idea,” opens Friday during Art Walk L/A, a series of displays in the downtown on the last Friday of the month from May to September.  Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Robert J. Russell sorts through his collection of drawings Wednesday at Downtown Handmade on Lisbon Street in Lewiston with gallery owner Sheri Withers to choose pieces for his show, “Image and Idea,” which opens Friday.

Russell sorts through page after page of mandalas, mazes and looming vertical designs he identifies as towers. The work is intricate and complicated.

“I don’t analyze my work because I can barely figure it out myself,” he says with a laugh.

The Lewiston resident creates art at a staggering pace. He started numbering his work about three years ago and is already up to 5,000 pieces. He signs each piece with his name, the date it was completed, the sequential number, and his age, 72.

“Everything comes out of my head,” he said. “I see pictures in my head. As soon as one is signed, it goes away. Then the next one comes right up. And I do that one.”

“My sketchbook is right on the edge of my bed. I sketch for a couple hours, get my breakfast, do my errands, come back, and do art all day. And then when I go to bed at night, my sketchbook is right there.”


Russell works primarily with Sharpie pens, although lately, he has incorporated magazine clippings into his pen work.

Mandalas by artist Robert J. Russell are displayed Tuesday at the Downtown Handmade gallery at 178 Lisbon St. in Lewiston. They will be among the works shown Friday at the “Image and Idea” show during Art Walk L/A in the downtown. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

“I used to subscribe to all kinds of books and magazines and never threw anything out,” he said. “I’m a packrat. Now it’s paying off.”

With the collages, he places a magazine image in the center of the page and painstakingly builds a maze around it.

“It comes very easy to me, but I don’t like to be interrupted,” Russell said.

Some of the magazine clippings depict other works of art. Some are famous musicians, although Russell is not always clear on who they are.

“I call this one ‘Cool Guy,’” he said of one piece.


He calls out to Withers, “Who did you say that was?”

Withers identifies the photo of Ed Sheeran.

“Maybe it will appeal to the younger generation,” Russell said, putting it in the pile to include in his show.

Russell has been creating art since he was a child.

“I was in grammar school when I was 12 years old and doing research, looking at an old National Geographic magazine and all these ideas come flooding in, and ever since then, you can’t stop me,” he said.

A child of the 1960s, he was influenced by the times. He saw Stanley Kubrick’s “A Space Odyssey,” which inspired a series of images he calls towers.


“That monolith stuck in my head all these years,” he said. “So now, years later, it went from the monolith into towers.”

Russell graduated from high school in 1969 and attended several colleges, including the Portland School of Fine and Applied Art, which is now the Maine College of Art, Bates College in Lewiston, Bowdoin College in Brunswick and the Arts Students League in New York City.

He had a show at the Zolla Lieberman Gallery in Chicago, where he said he sold half of the collection on opening night. He had another show at a major gallery in Miami.

Things were going great until they weren’t.

“I had an agent,” Russell said. “Something happened and it fizzled out. It’s like Hollywood. A couple of hits and it fizzles out.”

Russell moved back to Maine and settled into the art community in Lewiston. He had a show at the former Captive Elements Art House in Lewiston that did not go well.


“It wasn’t a very receptive public,” he said. “They didn’t understand what I was doing. Nasty comments and remarks. I pulled out of the show thing for a while.”

Withers wouldn’t have it. She wanted to show his work in her gallery.

“She wouldn’t take no for an answer,” Russell said. “She just kept pushing me and pushing me. And I said: I give in.”

Withers saw something special in Russell. She drew him into her circle, inviting him to parties where he is happy to chat about art with kids as well as adults, she said.

“It’s great to see him still producing so much work,” Withers said.

Russell’s appetite for creating art is insatiable.

“Everything will inspire me if I look at it,” he said. “If you ever see me walking down the street looking down all the time, it’s not because I’m depressed. I’m studying the cracks in the sidewalk and the gravel and the stones. It gives me ideas.”

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