Sep 21 – Nov 9, 2019
Robischon Gallery is pleased to present the sculpture of New Mexico artist Walter Robinson following his first exhibition at the gallery in 2018. As an artist deeply influenced by Surrealism, Pop and Bay Area Funk movements, with Funk being a lively West coast backlash to New York’s school of Abstract Expressionism, Robinson continues to hone his sculptural practice, brimming with socio-political vigor, wit and startling symbolism. The artist’s uncommon sculptural assemblages resonate and playfully point to what may underlie humanity’s habitual conventions and varied cultural approaches in facing the tumult of an ever-changing contemporary world. Growing up in a bilingual family in an era of social upheaval, the artist mined the zeitgeist that showed him, in his words, “that language and the ideologies that govern us are mutable, open to questioning and interpretation.” The large wall sculpture Still Life (Nature Morte), one of Robinson’s signature text works, carries with it a uniquely different perception of culture. Along with its obvious contrast to the history of a traditional still life painting, the artist creates anew and reorders the detritus of stuff that overwhelms our consumption-saturated daily lives. Constructed of variously repurposed objects such as boxing gloves, cow hide, a baby bottle nipple alongside a preponderance of artist-created items which are made to appear as if found, the assembled elements are re-contextualized as vanitas, perhaps implying that while material excesses might have specific or even ghostly memories of their once-useful functions, they also are reflective of an overly consumptive culture, with all of its absurdity and cause to wonder.
Tumbril, a covered wagon-cum-shopping cart is a rolling advertisement for American consumerism with its colorful stitched patches of corporate logos, gun club insignias, hippie-aesthetic flowers and ubiquitous owls, which were in specific, subverted from the owl’s Greek iconographical symbol Athena and her wisdom. American and Confederate flags seem disquietingly equal and at home on the covered wagon top – the conveyance used to physically settle much of the early U.S., but also acting to transport a diaspora of ideologies throughout the country. The title also conveys a deeper meaning as a tumbril alludes not only to a two-wheeled cart used agriculturally, often for carrying manure, or for moving army munitions, but more infamously for transferring doomed prisoners to the guillotine during the French Revolution. Robinson states, “appropriating existing conventions of art history is one strategy I’ve used to compose work. The pieces in this show borrow from the genres of still life (nature morte), vanitas, and Memento Mori. These art forms were meant to remind people that life is transient, and that human behavior would be rewarded or punished in the afterlife by their behavior on earth. But they also documented the material richness of life and the expanding awareness of the larger world and its variety of fauna and flora even as there was always an underlying awareness of time passing and mortality.” Robinson’s often bold and distinctively quirky and observant humor sneaks into Tumbril in subtle ways, as well, with its well-travelled cup holder, rearview mirror, trailer hitch and fish alluding to Christianity on the “bumper.”
Likewise, Exodus becomes a biographical narrative about the artist’s own trajectory in life and the best approach on how to use his remaining time as it also carries the same lesson for others. Allegorically, the comically-saddled stuffed warthog’s burden of the large hourglass is as timeless as the Blackberry phone is timely as a symbol. The armed, ungainly beast wears blinders, yet appears steadfast in its movement forward as the parakeet sentinel, cowbell and bugle announce his brief trespass. Since the blinders prevent the warthog from seeing the complete picture, a skull is stepped on and smashed beneath one hoof – a cautionary reminder of what humans might leave behind in their wake as an earthly inhabitant. Walter Robinson deftly works with iconic cultural and technological artifacts, as the artists describes as his way of symbolizing, “power objects from disparate places and periods.” Robinson further expresses, in final, “I create new fusions that reframe and compress history to reveal underlying human motivation. I choose cultural signifiers or words that are in emotional or ideological conflict with each other to show the inherent complexity in political and historical narratives written by the victors.”
Walter Robinson has a BFA from the San Francisco Academy of Art and his MFA from the Lone Mountain College in San Francisco, California. His work has received critical attention from numerous publications including Artforum, ArtReview, Vanity Fair and the San Francisco Chronicle. He has exhibited his work extensively on the West Coast and beyond, including solo shows at the New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe, NM; Center for Contemporary Arts Santa Fe, Santa Fe, NM; Oakland Museum Sculpture Court, Oakland, CA; San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Artists Gallery. His work can be found in many public and private collections such as the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, San Diego, CA; Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA; Nevada Museum of Art, Reno, NV; San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA; di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art, Napa, CA; The Sheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln, NE; the Djerassi Foundation, Woodside CA; and Warner Bros. Music in Champagne, Illinois