WALTER ROBINSON | Promises
Nov 5 – Dec 31, 2021
Robischon Gallery is pleased to present five concurrent solo exhibitions featuring artists Paco Pomet (Granada, Spain), Walter Robinson (Santa Fe, NM), Tom Judd (Philadelphia, PA), Gary Emrich (Denver, CO), and Terry Maker (Louisville, CO). The painting, sculpture, mixed media and video installation works on view address a range of complex historical issues, as well as reflect the cultural relationships and challenging conditions present in the contemporary world. Alluding to a variety of weighty themes, from societal hierarchies to the environment, and handled in an uncommon, unexpected manner by the five artists on view, the exhibitions offer an engaging look at America’s past and present. Painters Pomet and Judd, along with video artist Emrich, take full artistic license with photographic or filmic references of the past, while sculptors Robinson and Maker carve and cast larger-than-life provocative narrative works. The distinctive artworks on view vary and interconnect through imagery that is intentionally potent, surreal, poetic and absurd, while respectfully inviting the viewer to interpret and fully participate in a cultural dialogue that is both personal and ever-changing.
In his third Robischon Gallery exhibition, Walter Robinson returns with his oversized toy-like, polychrome wood and resin sculptures that boldly belie their potent political observations and wry, sharp-witted humor. Despite appearing as if the assembled sculptural elements were found, Robinson remarkably carves or fabricates many of the included materials as convincing simulacra of the objects that he represents. With purposeful additions of rusted farm implements, obsolete globes, or human hair, the artist’s humorous sculptures also demand intellectual interpretive rigor. Robinson states, “I look at the ways that humanity can work against its own best interests. The studio offers me a laboratory for processing the cultural and political issues we are confronting, using satire, irony and sympathy in equal parts. Slowly crafting and assembling pieces allows me to channel my emotional responses into visual and physical metaphors. For me, the job of being an artist involves drawing connections between disparate and unlikely parts. In the process, I search for antidotes for human moral failure, making mistakes but ultimately finding balance and resolution. Creation is a natural process; when all other forms of vanity and arrogance fail us, to quote Walt Whitman, Nature remains.”
The exhibition begins with Promise, an imposing, large-scale blue paintbrush with its title embossed above the painted ferrule. Suggestive phrases come to mind such as “to paint with a broad brush” as the eye quickly moves to the object’s “bristles” which are revealed to be human hair – luxurious, brown, flowing tresses. With its cumbersome scale, the implied potential and generality of the phrase, Promise, and the health and vibrancy of the bristles or brush head, Robinson freely gives license to the viewer to imagine a range of interpretation. In contrast, for the work entitled Spoils, the overall message is intentionally pointed. In response to the past and current political times, a predominantly blue and red vulture feasts on an abundance of sausages spilling out of an oversized red MAGA cap, onto a scroll that suggests a despoiling of the rule of law. Nearby, a bust entitled Preacher appears unsettled as his otherwise ordered and in control appearance is undone by the apparent uneasy task, or predicament, of having to wear two hats of equal measure. The two hats may imply that two roles are also being played, one as a guiding preacher who appears to have all of life’s answers and the other role may be a contradiction of sorts, as the agitated expression on the preacher’s face seems to indicate.
Imp, the disquieting, red-capped, skeletal figure is noted by Robinson as a work that, “addresses current events and is cobbled from scavenged parts of existing artworks, new leatherwork and found objects. Standing on half of an upside-down globe supported by a life preserver, this cartoony mutant with a human-sized thumb for a nose is happy to have survived the global wreckage of his own making.” The globe element is also prominently featured in Juice 2 as the map of Russia is getting the squeeze beneath the US Capitol dome’s super-sized juicer - designed to express every last ounce of vitality, as blond human locks stream from the implement’s handles. In a reference to Duchamp’s “Readymade” Bicycle Wheel sculpture, the spinning swastika of World History is comprised of soldiers’ boots each with a foot from a person of a different race; the boots grown too small through overuse in conflict. Time plays another role in the artist’s World History, as the cyclical nature of life and culture transforms the origin of the swastika from its ancient meaning of good fortune and well-being into something unspeakable. However, the wheel continues to turn in Robinson’s view, allowing for shifts in meaning to occur again and again. In the large-scale floor sculpture entitled Promised Land the artist takes a mindful view of Pilgrim’s progress in America’s expansion. Parceling out the land to select groups (linking it to current day gerrymandering), the feces-filled Pilgrim hat bedecks a compass that exponentially advances over the land. With the symbol of the actively used pink eraser, Robinson implies the course – to wipe out Native Americans and swaths of Nature in a quest for settling the North American terrain. While in Tribulation, the artist sends a message regarding the layers of time and a brutal territorial past, with the mallet of justice positioned atop a skeletal leg.
Perhaps the Cure, the artist’s two glittering epoxy resin Freud heads, suggest that a cultural, psychological, investigation is in order. Given the sculptures’ candy-like nature of a “pop-psychology” treat, Robinson may further imply that deep wounds require far more from its patients and that perhaps a true dedication to self-awareness and compassionate understanding should be the goal. Unafraid to bravely reflect in unexpected fashion a glimpse of the underbelly of American history and contemporary culture, Walter Robinson’s beguiling and unnerving, beautifully built sculptures carry with them a kind of hope for redemption – that through personal and societal investigation, a light may shine and transformation may be possible.
Walter Robinson has a BFA from the San Francisco Academy of Art and his MFA from the Lone Mountain College in San Francisco, California. 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. Robinson’s work has received critical attention from numerous publications including Artforum, ArtReview, Vanity Fair and the San Francisco Chronicle.