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UMN alum’s illustrated Old Testament displays witty artistic vision

Sam Robertson uses American scenes to tell ancient stories in his 260 paintings.
Image by CJ Bonk
Sam Robertson speaks at the round table discussion on Jan. 27.

Sam Robertson, a University of Minnesota alum and local artist, hopes his newest series, a collection of paintings accompanying the entire Old Testament, will encourage readers to connect American life with the King James Bible.

On Jan. 27, Robertson spoke with art historians and scholars about his work, aptly titled “Illustrated Old Testament,” at a panel hosted by downtown Minneapolis art center Open Book.

“Even though I had never read the Old Testament before, I had this deep feeling that there would be important connections in the text to my style,” Robertson said at the panel. “In particular, I trusted that the themes of Americana in many of my paintings would connect to the different stories throughout the bible.”

Robertson’s nearly 260 colorful paintings focus on action-packed scenes in the modern Western world. The illustrations contain abstract characters, but they also convey the emotional landscape of American life with familiar representations of cowboy hats, hamburgers, highways and cattle.

Some academics on the panel raised the question of whether readers would find Robertson’s work blasphemous.

In an interview with the Minnesota Daily, University history professor and Robertson’s former instructor JB Shank, one of the panelists from Jan. 27, said he did not find Robertson’s work blasphemous.

“The spirit of this work by Robertson is playful and whimsical but never engages in an angry rebuttal to the text,” Shank said.

Robertson took Shank’s history course“Age of Curiosity: Art and Knowledge in Europe, 1400–1800” during his time at the University and named it as the driving force behind their reconnection in an interview with the Minnesota Daily.

In 2020, Shank received an email from Robertson about historical examples of illustrated texts, an area of speciality for the professor.

From there, Shank and Robertson facilitated the Jan. 27 showcase and critique of Robertson’s “Illustrated Old Testament.”

Andrew Wilt of 11:11 Press, who published Robertson’s “Illustrated Old Testament,” said Robertson’s painting style inspired him to take a chance on the momentous project.

“What struck me most about Sam’s creative process is how much fun he had with it,” he said. “He was always in a state of play — sincere but never too serious — and that kept the mood positive, something that made working with him so enjoyable.”

Robertson said he hopes to go door-to-door later this year dressed as a ‘70s Bible salesman and sell his “Illustrated Old Testament” to everyday Americans. He plans to document these adventures in America’s neighborhoods and is currently working on a podcast about the process of selling his book called “Birth of a Salesman.”

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