Robert Tino


Capturing the Beauty of the Smokies

If Robert Tino’s name sounds familiar, that’s because he’s been capturing the heart and soul of the Great Smoky Mountains on canvas for 40 years.

Tino’s work graced the cover of Cityview’s January-February 2018 issue, as he posed with his 4’x8’ painting of a downtown Knoxville scene. Now he’s back, voted by Cityview’s readers as Knoxville’s best landscape painter in 2018’s Best of the Best.

His journey—from selling his first works at craft fairs and city festivals to being recognized as the best landscape painter in the area—has been an exciting one. “After 40 years, it has never gotten boring to me whatsoever,” he says. “I’m just trying to do better work all the time. There’s still so much that I want to do.”

When Tino speaks, you hear the Smokies in his voice. Sevierville, with its beautiful scenery and bustling city, has been his home since he was 14. His arrival in East Tennessee,  a result of a move based on his father’s career, kickstarted his passion for landscapes. “What better place than the Smoky Mountains to paint a landscape?” he asks. When his family moved away from Sevierville, Tino stayed behind with a school friend as a guest at his friend’s grandmother’s home.

Once Tino found home, he never left again. He and that school friend, Mary John Denton, got married after high school and had two children. Together, they opened a gallery in Mary’s grandmother’s home – the very home that Tino and his wife attended high school from.

Tino keeps busy. Between commissions and his own pieces, he creates roughly 50 large, complex paintings every year. With layers of translucent colors and an integral sense of serenity, his paintings pay homage to the beauty of the East Tennessee landscape.

When not composing from his imagination, Tino works from photographs given to him by clients who commission artwork. It takes a special sort of care and attention, however, to capture the landscape’s essence and make it unique.

“I do work a lot from photographs just to keep that spontaneous image, and I’ll go in and compose to where it’s my colors, and my lighting, and things like that,” he says. “That’s love. You understand that a lot more with age, I think.”

With the accumulated experience of a lifetime painting the mountain environment, Tino has done more than understand the emotions behind his process. He has also grown and transformed his style. Landscapes, just like the Great Smoky Mountains, are Tino’s artistic home. That doesn’t mean he can’t branch out, however. In 2002, Tino visibly departed from his previous work when he unveiled “Things Have Changed,” a portrait of a bear formed in abstract swashes of color. The new painting’s surface was as rough and craggy as the mountains; layers of modeling paste and glazes were set off with textured strokes of the palette knife. And, as he proved in crafting a cover for Cityview, Tino can also paint the urban landscape.

But whether its his traditional landscapes or an abstract piece, Tino keeps his roots strong. That great strength comes from a great love. “I love the high country of the Great Smokies,” he says. “ I love the clouds and the smoke that fill up the mountains… there’s just something magical about watching the clouds move on the mountains.” 

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