It’s Labour Day in the US tomorrow, he’s just landed a top job with Estée Lauder and his twin baby boys are still tucked up in bed, but the Instagram phenomenon that is Donald Robertson—or @donalddrawbertson to his fans—is firing through the answers to his Harper’s BAZAAR interview. Robertson does everything at speed. He seems to be the only person who has 25 hours in the day, or has discovered the ability to make good use of those 1,440 minutes available. While the world’s best fashion designers are knocking on his door for artworks, magazines are calling for interviews and Obama’s staff is asking if he can rustle up an illustration or two for the White House, he is still managing to post two or three artworks daily on Instagram—and create an exclusive artwork for Harper’s BAZAAR Singapore.
Robertson has a real job and he’s very good at it. The Creative Director for Estée Lauder’s special projects team is a volcano of creativity, bubbling over with ideas. In the late ’80s he came up with the slogan “All ages, all races, all sexes” for MAC Cosmetics and then launched VIVA Glam, which has helped raise more than USD300 million for HIV research. He then temporarily switched from the beauty world to the fashion world and went on to launch Marie Claire in the US before redesigning US Glamour. There’s no doubt that he is a one-stop ideas shop.
But, while he counts Reed Krakoff, Violet Grey and photographer Dewey Nicks among his friends, no-one had heard of Robertson outside of the fashion and beauty industry circles until he snapped some shots of his artworks, put them up on Instagram and @donalddrawbertson was born. His “tongue-in-chic” art, as he calls it, has now garnered 80k followers and his fan base grows daily.
Powered by coffee, the father of five creates some of the most talked-about pieces on Instagram—sketching on his table tennis table. From Beyonce on stage (which she recently bought) to Karl chatting to Coco, the world is treated to these light-hearted pieces every day. While Robertson might choose paint and paper as his tools of choice, he’s more than happy to decorate anything that comes his way. Pizza boxes have been turned into Hermès packaging, refuse bins have become Louis Vuitton luggage and disposal coffee cups have been given the legendary monogram. And he doesn’t always need to use a square paint brush to create these fun-loving pieces—markers and gaffer tape will also become part of his masterpieces. However, what he views as the most important tool in his studio is a little more technologically advanced—“My phone! For inspiration, archiving and sharing.” And the reason he started posting was simple, he reveals: “Art loves an audience. I just found one that was instantaneous!”
After months of quietly posting to a growing fan base, US designer Lisa Perry spotted Donald’s work on Instagram. Then following a quick meeting at the Mark Hotel she asked him to work on a project with her. The result was a striking catwalk created from gaffer tape for her spring/summer 2014 show. Robertson continued with his artworks—and his day job—and at the same time
more of the fashion pack came calling. Giles Deacon saw the lip prints Robertson had created and he immediately wanted to use them on his fabric for his spring/summer 2014 collection. And by the time these glittering pouts hit the catwalk, Robertson’s fate as the Warhol of Instagram was well and truly sealed.
It’s clear that he’s not doing it to become the next big media star. He does it because he loves it. “I like working on a ping pong table. One side is a drying space, the other side is for paint and paper. It feels fun to me,” he says.
What’s more remarkable is, his online gallery shows only
a fraction of what he actually creates. “I only post a third of what I’m working on in a
given day. I like working on a hundred things at a time,”
Posting that many artworks, you’d think he would be short of ideas, but that’s not the case. His inspiration comes from the rolling gallery he logs on to constantly. “I react to what is happening on Instagram and in the world. It’s real time.”
While some still struggle to stay abreast of the latest apps, Robertson’s in it, on it and following with gusto. Ask him to choose his favourite images and he picks the ones he shot today—“I love my spray paint lips I just started. Love them.”
But while the New York elite are clamouring to hold parties in his honour, this affable artist is taking it all in his stride. Even if he got sucked up in to the glamour of “Hollywoody,” as he calls it, he always has his family to make sure his feet are planted firmly on the ground. “My son says being famous on Instagram is like being rich in the game of Monopoly!” says Robertson.
However, his amiable manner is what attracts people to his account as much as his drawings. When his wife gave birth to twins Charlie and Henry earlier this year, his post received as many—or more—hits than his art works. And this proud dad doesn’t mind when one of the twins decides to crawl among his drying paintings.
So with Queen B putting him on speed dial and Obama’s team commissioning a piece, he can’t have much more he would like to accomplish. Although Robertson admits he still has one dream project he would like to work on: “I would love to paint Wes Anderson’s portrait for the cover of his biography. But he will ask his brother so fer get [sic] it,” he says. However, while he’s waiting to hear if Wes will call, he’s still got the fashion pack keeping him busy. “I’m working on a collaboration with the designer Giles Deacon. And also with Jenna Lyons. I love their work.”
If you want to get your hands on Robertson’s art, you don’t need to seek him out at a dusty warehouse. As you would expect, his gallery is as 21st century as his techniques—he sells his works on www.trendabl.com, where they sell for around USD3,000. However, even with people rushing to buy his works the second he posts them, this surburban dad is just enjoying the ride. His plans for the future are simple: “Paint and post til I drop.” ■
Photography: Dewey Nicks (www.deweynicks.com), Tara Sgroi (www.tarasgroi.com)