"Sometimes people ask whether I am a romantic or a realist artist. I would hope that I fall between the two. . . The ideal artist looks at the future and the past at the same time. The romantic artist spends more time looking backwards. The realist attempts to work in the present but emphasizes the future. However, if you try to predict the future, you seldom succeed. "
Born in Chicago, Therrien emerged on the burgeoning Los Angeles art scene in the late 1970s after completing graduate school at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, and studying photography at the Brooks Institute, Santa Barbara, California. At a time when the dominance of Minimalism and Conceptualism was being challenged, Therrien adopted certain formal aspects of these movements, yet allowed his pared-down sculptures and monochrome wall reliefs to take on poetic reference and implied narratives.
Robert Therrien’s manipulations of everyday objects alter the viewer’s psychic as well as physical space. Removed of their functionality and altered in unfamiliar ways, the objects gain metaphoric value while navigating influences as diverse as Greek sculpture, the innovations of Marcel Duchamp, and early animation. As curator Lynn Zelevansky observed, “Therrien’s is an art of paradox and balance....In the perfection of their proportions these sculptures suggest rationality and objectivity but their narrative associations denote interiority and personal history.”
Therrien enjoyed creating unexpected, surreal, and dreamy worlds out of simple, familiar objects and did so by manipulating their size, color, material, and juxtaposition. For example, one of his most popular exhibits, Table and Four Chairs, consists of chairs and a table blown up to enormous sizes. When looking at the exhibit, the viewer feels as if he or she is looking through the eyes of a young child. In 2009, a portion of Therrien's work was added to a famous international Contemporary Art collection, Artist Rooms. This collection contains many of his major artworks, such as Red Room, Stack of Plates, and Beard Cart. Therrien's artworks continue to blend the dream world with the real world, play with childhood games, explore fairytales and fables, and tamper with unfinished narratives.