Robert Sundholm has never had an art lesson or even visited a museum. In fact he’s spent a good part of his life mopping floors. But when he began painting on canvas at age 60 – after years of sketching people on the subway – he knew he’d found his passion. “I was lonely”, says Sundholm, who worked as a janitor at North Bergen’s Town hall in New Jersey for 13 years. “It made me feel good to create something beautiful.” Now, in a plot twist worthy of a Hollywood movie, Sundholm, 75, is debuting his colletion of colorful scenes and landscapes at New York City’s Outsider Art Fair, the premier showcase for self-taught artists, “Sundholm is an exciting new discovery,” says show director Becca Hoffman. “The raw innocence of his brushwork exemplifies the spirit of Outsider Art Fair artists”. Adds Sundholm: “it feels great to say I am an artist. I was always told that I didn’t have any talent. I became something from nothing”.
Abandoned by his parents to an orphanage at age 7, Sundholm was on his own by the time he was 15, working the counter at a Schrafft’s restaurant in Manhattan and street-hustling for money on the side. At Schrafft’s, one of his regular customers was former schoolteacher Marian O’Connor, who taught him to read (at age 32) and later left him enough money to buy a modest apartment. “She told me someday I would be something”, says Sundholm, who considered O’Connor his “second mother”, “so I kept going.”
In 2009 another artist discovered Sundholm’s work on the walls of the town hall and curated his first art show. “It was like a left hook”, he says. “I saw these raw, primitive drawings that jumped out with emotion.” Whatever comes next for Sundholm it’s all been worth it. “I’ve had a lot of hard times,” he says. “But my art kept me going. Good things happen to those who wait”.