The Art of Marriage: Artists Kim, Peter Robbins Look Back at 37 Years Together

Marriage is an art. Take it from photographers Kim and Peter Robbins.

Peter was in eighth grade when his interests in photography bloomed. “My dad had a Praktica 35 mm that he brought back from Korea. I began taking photos with it. My best buddy was a photographer and was understudying this guy who was a Brooks graduate. We both began to apprentice him until at least our senior year. He taught me about quality, black-and-white printing and composition. At that time, it was my dream to be a photojournalist,” Peter says.

After graduating from the University of Oklahoma in 1978, Peter moved to Dallas and his career officially began. Soon after, Peter married his high school sweetheart, Kim, and the couple decided to leave Texas for Milan, Italy.

While in Europe, Peter worked as a freelance photojournalist for multiple newspapers and a myriad of European and American magazines. “I photographed everything from wars in Central America and the Middle East to fashion in Paris, Milan and New York,” Peter says.

Kim developed her passion for art at an early age and was exposed to painting, dancing, drawing and theater throughout her youth. She attended Trinity University and Oklahoma University in the ’70s, majoring in art and sociology. After graduating, Kim moved to Dallas and began her 15-year career as a commercial fashion model. Her first assignment was a cover and editorial spread in Town & Country magazine, which followed with work all over Texas, New York, Europe, Asia, Mexico and South America.

Gradually Kim transitioned from modeling to on-set styling and makeup. “Being the model first, I was always with photographers and was constantly learning from them. For me, the camera became a vehicle for creative expression,” Kim says.

Lead a Horse, photograph by Peter Robbins.

Marriage of Talent

The couple’s nearly 40-year marriage has been anything but boring, filled with high fashion, exotic travel and often-dangerous photojournalistic assignments. Working in the same field as your spouse can have its perks and its challenges, especially when dealing with the stereotypical traits of creative individuals.

“It’s not always easy with two artists in the family. Some of our strengths don’t always complement each other,” Peter says. “It’s not as much competitive as it is, she helps me and I help her.”

Kim and Peter often collaborate on projects. “Peter might call me his art director. My eye for composition and styling works well with his style,” Kim says.

For 15 years, Peter has concentrated on telling the story of the cowboy and the Western lifestyle. He says, “My focus is a very distant thing from what she [Kim] is interested in. It’s not like we are shooting over each other’s shoulders.”

Kim says they make the work/home balance successful by taking it one day at a time. “A lot of spats take place, but that helps you learn about boundaries and communication. Character growth can be born out of conflict. I admire Peter. I hadn’t planned to be an artist; it just flowed out of me. My son will say everything I’ve done in my life, layer upon layer, has led me to this,” Kim says.

Kim and Peter met in the ninth grade and will celebrate their wedding anniversary this month.

Little Cowboys by Kim Robbins.

Muse and Method

“I never stop thinking about art. I was walking on the Trinity River the other day and saw an egret along the bank. It inspired two of my recent pieces [The Great White Egret #1 and The Great White Egret #2],” Kim says.

Her background as a fashion model is advantageous in her work as she is able to direct her subjects and create a comfortable, relaxed environment. Kim says, “A makeup artist once told me, ‘The art of movement in front of the camera has been lost.’ A lot of girls look at magazines and think it’s not very hard. They have no idea what is required to wearing a garment, the bodyline. Girls will get more inspiration from me because I know how to get them to emote. It’s like being a coach.”

Over the years, Kim has created a collection of photographs that not only focus on different cultures, but also capture an assortment of subject matter, including flowers, succulents, cars, oil rigs, animals and urban landscapes. Kim’s Native American series and photos of Escaramuzas, female horsemen in Hispanic history, are among her most culturally relevant.

Her method of translating her work from the camera to a digital environment where she uses image editing to perform darkroom-type manipulations makes her pieces almost instantly recognizable. Kim’s photos pulsate on the canvas because of the high-quality pigment ink printers she uses in her process.

Prints of her work can be purchased on her website and have also been featured and sold at various Pottery Barn and West Elm locations. “You must be a business person to be a successful artist. There is a commerciality to it. You must constantly keep yourself out there. So you have to make the time to create the work but also make the time to market your work,” Kim says.

Peter’s passion for the wilderness, horses and “the way of the cowboy” goes back to his earliest memories of his small ranch in Oklahoma. He grew up watching old Westerns such as “Bonanza” and “The Lone Ranger,” which only perpetuated his fascination with the romance of the West.

In the ’90s, Peter had the opportunity to photograph Tom Moorhouse, famous Texas cowboy and official manager of Tongue River Ranch in West Texas. Since then, he has ridden alongside cowboys throughout Wyoming, Texas and New Mexico. His goal over the last 15 years has been to communicate the cowboy story from the vantage point of a working cowhand.

Peter combines his photographs with oil pastels to embellish color and contrast. Each print is an original in that he cannot reproduce the painting exactly the same way. Peter prefers to work with a short lens because he likes to be close to his subjects.

Upcoming projects for the couple include a photographic collaboration ranch project in Cave Creek, Arizona. Peter has a few assignments in the Palo Duro Canyon area and in New Mexico, and Kim is producing work for An Artist Christmas event this month and is the feature artist, starting Dec. 10 through the holidays, at Pottery Barn in University Park Village.