In the words of Albert Einstein, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” This saying aptly applies to artist Robin York, who has spent 30 years successfully teaching high school art in Manteo before retiring and even more years as a successful practicing artist. Not only can she teach it, she can do it because, as the saying goes, she knows it well due to education, experience, and endurance.

York comes to the business of art with a BFA in painting and drawing and a Masters in art education. She was a National Board Certified teacher and twice was named Teacher of the Year. She has won awards for her art that is as eclectic as a 20th century art history textbook.

The walls in her home are covered in examples of the art that shows a talent for not only realism, but also abstraction, impressionism and expressionism. Her portfolio includes acrylic paintings, batiks, embroidery, and pottery.

Perhaps it was the need to understand what she taught to teach it well that brought about this eclecticism in her work. Regardless, she happily bounces back and forth from various genres and delights in all of them. What’s important to her is that she creates every day. “I feel like it’s God’s gift, and we should use it and never loose a sense of our self,” York says.

Currently, she is working on a realistic dog portrait commission as well as two realistic paintings — a Hawaiian landscape and one of fisherman on the beach, which she will use as examples for her students at College of the Albemarle (COA) where she currently teaches painting, drawing and pottery.

York also teaches batik workshops at Dare County Arts Council and will be launching a batik class at COA in the fall.

While she enjoys creating in multiple mediums, her first love is painting. York concentrated on abstraction in college, but then found that people more appreciate realism. So, she keeps one foot planted in realism, but also combined both genres when she went through a period painting oyster shells. She was drawn to oysters after getting a commission from an oyster bar, but it was cancelled. She found herself with many finished works wondering what to do with them. When her friends learned what had happened, they bought up the paintings. She also sold several super realistic oyster shell pastels to the Coastal Federation.

The oyster paintings are some of her finest works, for they show off not only an adept and spirited merging of realism and abstraction, but also a skill with color and drawing. From artwork to artwork, whether a realistic acrylic painting of waterlilies in a pond, a series of boat houses or a batik of a seahorse, her drawing skills shine. She recently did a painting of a retriever with a duck in its mouth to donate to the nonprofit group Coastal Trail Outfitters of North Carolina for a fundraising auction. The quality of the work has stunned its viewers with its photo-like quality.

Her subject matter is as boundless as are her genres. She’s done commissions for portraits, landscapes, and duck paintings, as well. And, large abstract works hang in her home where line, color, and shapes create multicolored patterns across the canvas.

On painting, her first love, York says, “It’s like putting a puzzle together. It’s relaxing, and it’s also a challenge.”

On teaching, it’s about inspiring the student to show the gift that they have. It thrilled her when a student of years ago said she still had a painting hung on her wall that she created in York’s class. “I instilled that little gift in people,” she humbly remarks. It’s all about letting the creative spirit shine. Who better to instill it than a practicing artist who is capable of doing, as well as teaching.

Mary Ellen Riddle has been writing the Coast’s art column for more than 20 years and brings to her work a BFA in painting from East Carolina University and a profound passion for the role the arts play in society.

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