March 14, 1934 – August 21, 2016
The only child of Charlyne and Lester Pritchard, he was born in Kansas City, MO and grew up in Long Beach, California. Always creative, he began seriously painting at age 15. Robert earned a BFA in painting from USC in 1958 studying with Edgar Ewing and Francis de Erdly. His studies were interrupted in 1955 by Army draft serving two years in Germany working as a map maker where he enjoyed vacationing in Paris. Returning to California, he grew his hair long for the rest of his life. He did four years post-graduate work at UCLA nearly earning a Masters in graphic design and photography but the curriculum changed and he found work as a picture framer in Los Angeles. He became part of the L.A. scene driving his Afghan dogs around town in an MG convertible. Beverly Hills furniture designer Phyllis Morris saw a painting of his in the frame shop window and signed him as her exclusive artist. Robert became well known from 1965 through the late 1970’s for his large oil paintings of strong featured women, European scenes and classic cars. A prolific artist, hundreds of his paintings have graced the homes of the rich and famous, MGM Grand Hotel, and have appeared in several movies. In 1970 he placed a personal ad for a photography model and Cheryl Kerlin answered it. A talented makeup artist, Robert painted her face, costumed her and had many extreme photography sessions forming the basis of later paintings and their relationship. He tried to date her a year later, Cheryl refusing since he was married with a small child. He separated and moved into her small Echo Park cabin. She was 22 and he 37, hippie and beatnik. They married a year later in Pasadena and honeymooned in Mendocino, California, their spiritual home to which they have often returned. Cheryl became Robert’s life long muse and inspiration.
After amicably parting from Phyllis Morris, Robert and his wife moved to Seattle for five years, where he began exploring spirituality, mortality and nature. Still favoring female images, his paintings became more unique and striking than his former work. Because of damp winters, they moved back to California to the Bay area where he spent the rest of his life, first in Berkeley then Oakland for the past 30 years. Robert’s work evolved to include vampires, femme fatales, classic movie stars and vintage opera singers.
Fascinated with gender, Robert became his own art subject in 1992. A self-described female impersonator with drag queen sensibilities, Roxanna Rochette was born. In the tradition of Marcel DuChamp, Robert often signed his paintings with 2 R’s instead of Pritchard. In 1994 at a San Francisco social group for straight cross-dressers and their wives, Cheryl joined him on Halloween cross-dressed as a 1940’s gypsy man, discovering her own male persona Francis Vavra. Roxanna and Francis spent 10 years dancing in disco and gothic clubs and becoming active in the LGBT community to raise awareness. One of a few cross-dressing couples, they spoke at colleges, did interviews, New York talk shows and were featured in a book by Marjorie Garber. Robert used Roxanna and Francis as subjects for black and white photographs, paintings, collages, and masks. He included other trans women in photographs. Robert’s paintings were displayed annually at his studio as part of ProArts’ open studios and other galleries. He had an art piece at ProArts gallery censored and removed, resulting in a large turnout to his studio to see the offending piece. His philosophy was to surprise, delight, challenge and shock his audience, the true purpose of his art being to learn more about his own psyche and to paint or draw what attracted or amused him.
In 2004 Robert and Cheryl became volunteers at Oakland Animal Services, working with dogs, cats and house rabbits, several of which they adopted. He was a volunteer for 7 years. A lover of all animals, Robert had a gift of restoring their spirit and trust when scared or abused. Besides painting, being with animals, hiking, cooking, listening to opera, Mahler and new age music, reading, and watching romantic movies were his favorite things. He lived life as he painted, with attention to detail, expressing deep thoughts and emotions, and setting a high standard for all his endeavors.