Escape from the Promised Land

Escape from the Promised Land large

Robert made strong and lasting friendships at university–this was clearly an essential part of his school experience–and it pained him when, after graduation, his friends began “going down the road,” leaving the region one by one. This “brain drain,” so detrimental to the province, remains the expected course of action for bright and ambitious young people in Nova Scotia. In a sketchbook, Robert criticized the belief that “real life takes place elsewhere. In this colonial mentality, it is assumed that the only way to make it is to leave the region.”

The title of Robert’s painting is inspired by the Bruce Springsteen song, “The Promised Land,” 1978. In the song, Springsteen drives across a county line: ”I got the radio on and I’m just killing time/ Working all day in my Daddy’s garage/ Driving all night, chasing some mirage.” At the time Robert was working for his own father in the family publishing business a few days a week and pursuing art the other days. The word “mirage” must have resonated with Robert as his most extensive painting cycle to date had this very title. The model is Heather MacKinnon, an avid Springsteen fan.

In the song, the narrator “believes in a promised land,” and his car journey represents escape to a brighter future or to the illusion of one. Robert’s title changes the direction of the song, “from” instead of “to” the Promised Land. This suggests the person is driving in the wrong direction, or the escape is not entirely one of choice, but may be a kind of expulsion.

Escape from the Promised Land

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