This lecture is part of the Divine Disorder Conference held February 24-26, 2015.
“Prophecy in Exterior Latex: Documenting the Message of Isaiah Robertson” by Fred Scruton
As a young man, Isaiah Robertson emigrated from Jamaica and worked in Ontario, Canada as a tradesman. In 2004, at the age of 57, he moved, he thought temporarily, to Niagara Falls, NY, but found that God had sent him there for a reason: to bring a prophecy about the Second Coming to the world. The elemental (‘biblical’) power of the Falls had pulled him to stay close, and it is to be the site, in 2014, where Jesus will ascend the saved into heaven and dismiss the heathen into a stream of burning waters. He has taken me to the location on Three Sisters Island (between the Canadian and American Falls) where Jesus will sit on high and separate “the goats from the sheep.” He believes that site was chosen because the Three Sisters represent the Trinity, and before reaching the Falls, a twenty-five foot “healing and talking” cross in Robertson’s driveway will offer the multitudes a last chance for salvation.
Working on his home site as a divinely-guided messenger (“no man could make this”), Robertson has regularly added new components and re-painted the existing symbols– which at first appear to be abstract and decorative. This presentation examines the extensive evolution of the site since 2010, and the quite specific meanings (“readings”) of his symbols. For example, numerous stars adorn the site, but the number of points determine which ethnic group or biblical figure is being symbolized. Entering the house, visitors pass by the “Mercy Seat” to reach the living room. Recently he has similarly covered the living room walls with this personal iconography, and an adjacent “Holy Room” is filled with beads and candles.
Living about 2 1/2 hours away, and having established an on-going relationship through numerous return visits, Robertson will call to alert me of new additions or other changes. For example, representations of four of the Seven Seals are painted on the sidewalk leading to his front door, but daily wear and winter shoveling peel away at the patterns, and Robertson paints-over and re-designs the Seals at lest once a year.
Especially with 2015 approaching, the site faces an uncertain future, and like many, its likely to receive only a virtual preservation: primarily through the video/photographic record. The tension between ‘documentation’ and the intention to produce stand alone ‘works of photographic art’ will be addressed through in an historical context and through personal experience. Having been able to document the site as it developed in “real time” has been a rare opportunity in my specialty, and getting to know the artist has deeply enriched my understanding of it.
Fred Scruton is an assistant professor of art at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania. After receiving an MFA from Pratt Institute in 1982, he worked for twenty years as a freelance photographer of art and architecture in new York city. With clients including major contemporary artists, galleries, and museums, this work has been widely reproduced, including book and magazine covers. Since moving to western Pennsylvania in 2003, he has traveled extensively throughout the United States to document self-taught visionary artists and their environments. There have been three exhibitions of this personal work at OK Harris Gallery in New York City, and a presentation at INTUIT in Chicago. Feature articles on Prophet Isaiah Robertson and Billy Tripp were published in recent issues of Raw Vision magazine.