‘Emerging Horizons’

Robin L. Washburn’s metal patina art is included in a current group show of 9 artists. Emerging Horizons a new curated art show is on view at Olson-Larsen Galleries alternative new space called O-L Living Room at 201 5th Street in West Des Moines’ Valley Junction. To view in person or by small group, call 515.277.6734. Curator Chaden Halfhill, founder and CEO of Silent Rivers Design+Build, assembled a show with work by artists who have successfully planted the seeds of inspiration and collaboration amidst personal and artistic transformation throughout their careers. Chaden specifically asked us to tell the story of our off and on collaboration during our nearly 30 years together.   With the exception of Crow’s Nest, the show does not include these collaborative sculptures.  Instead, the text and photos are used to illustrate how our collaboration has influenced Robin’s solo which is featured in the gallery.  The following is the text we sent to tell this story:

Sculptor Robin L. Washburn studied art in high school and junior college, and was active in making sets for community theatre. From there he acquired unusual training making ice sculptures for banquets and special events, a medium he describes as formative in order to learn to let go of his work.

In 1991, Washburn married artist Sharon Matusiak, a figurative painter with a BFA in painting and drawing. Matusiak had recently begun experimenting with mixed media on wood, which led the couple to collaborate. Washburn said he’d been waiting for her since he was seven, having had an epiphany at that age about collaborating with an artist in their later years.  The two bought twenty acres of woodlands in Southern Illinois on which they built their home and studios.  Their initial collaboration was making sculptural art furniture including elaborately carved tree-like jewel boxes, one-legged tables and mirror frames.  For each piece, they collaborated on the design process with Washburn responsible for the carving and construction and Matusiak finishing the work, by adding texture and pigment.  Through their collaboration, each learned from the other their respected skills; Sharon now able to carve wood and Robin learned the value of color and texture.  This collaboration culminated in a series of mixed media sculptures depicting goddesses nestled inside a canoe shaped cocoons.  Several years later they returned to that theme for one last goddess of the grove, titled The Return of Beatrice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Their collaboration continued until 1998 when Washburn was injured while carving and was unable to sculpt.  At this time they decided to develop two individual bodies of work in the event of one artist becoming permanently disabled.  While Washburn recovered, Matusiak continued her mixed media on wood relief sculpture often using a circular format inspired by its link to heavenly bodies. This series became known as Jewelry For the Wall.  Queen of the Night, below, was inspired by a gift from Washburn, a book of photographs taken by astronauts and cosmonauts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During this time Washburn pursued his desire to work with patinating metal. For the next five years he learned to weld and braze while developing a concept for his future work.  He built a new studio to house equipment, tools and provide space for fabrication and patination.  Refining a very painterly approach to his surfaces by exploring an extensive list of chemicals, he also learned to employ various means of application. This work drew on the landscape around him, and was informed by his earlier collaboration with Matusiak that valued the colors and textures of nature. In addition, Washburn’s approach was influenced by architecture and had a refined and subtle sense of balance.  Exhibitions followed in 2004 along with many awards including Best of Metal in 2008 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Fine Craft Show and Best in Medal also in 2008 at the Des Moines Art Fair.

 

 

 

 

 

Seeking new ways forward in the wake of the 2008 recession, the couple began to collaborate again this time focusing on mixed media on wood pieces. In this new work they combined the ideals of minimalism from Washburn’s work with the vivid color and dramatic texture of Matusiak’s work. This collaboration culminated in the series TWITCH!, works which examined questions of purpose, balance and harmony.  The first image below is of Divided Space a relief that incorporates a crackled, hand painted surface with enamel on copper.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Downtown, shown here in its installation over a fireplace, integrates several panels of copper, stainless steel, copper screen and enamel on copper with a lush green painterly backplate evoking a cityscape on a park-like setting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After working with abstract geometric design for several more years, in 2015 the couples work grew to include symbolic imagery.  They utilized the iconic forms of boats, nests and books. To them the boat is the symbol for the spiritual journey, and as such, offered meaningful  exploration.  The boat has been used in funeral rites, for exploration, travel and trade around the planet, and for the gathering of food, waging war and recreation.  Foregoing realism, they favored the idea of each boat, seeking meaning in its shape, utility and accoutrements. Likewise, they utilized the idea of books to represent the physical embodiment of knowledge and enlightenment, stories, secrets, and the ongoing record of history. Each sculpture stood as a testament of their artistic journey, both as individuals and collaborators.  These sculptural icons also embodied their fear of important cultural symbols fading into oblivion.

Crow’s Nest a play on the name of the lookout of sailing vessels, was the largest boat the couple created together, measuring 5’W and 2’H.  Washburn carved the shape of the vessel, turning it over to Matusiak to finish with a crackled surface and acrylic paint.  He then made the deck of the boat from hickory with brass nails symbolic of a railing, and constructed a base of copper clad wood which he hammered before adding chemical patina. Lastly, he sculpted a nest, symbol of home and security, from recycled copper wire and pipe.

Crow’s Nest

 

Through this work, Washburn recognized the dimensional possibilities of cladding copper over wood, which gave him the freedom to work with lighter weight materials and create tactile physical texture in addition to visual texture. In 2018, the couple decided to again pursue solo work, with Matusiak returning to her artistic roots with figurative work, this time in clay, and Washburn venturing deeper into his fascination with the coloring of metal.

Since then he has experimented with a variety of tools for hammering and embossing the surface such as an antique meat tenderizer, box wrenches, antique adjustable wrench and numerous types of hammers, each of which creates differing impressions. This surface treatment creates a different effect by allowing light to play off the physical texture adding to the color variations. Washburn has also added form-folding to his repertoire.

@DesMoinesArtsFestival #DMAF2021 #gowhereittakesyou #olsenlarsengalleries
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‘Emerging Horizons’, a new curated art show is on view at Olson-Larsen Galleries alternative new space called O-L Living Room at 201 5th Street in West Des M… 

Creating a New World

Our world is moving at lightening speed.  The 2019 way of being no longer exists and adaptation is imperative.  Now is the time for searching out new answers to old problems, evolving the way we perform and re-evaluating goals.  Humans are creative beings and that is not a talent belonging solely to artists.  The most challenging times hold the seeds for transformation, amazing growth and answers to our most perplexing questions.  We can meet the test of our time, but not with old solutions that no longer work.  Governments can and should be more responsive to the needs of its citizens. With creative solutions it is also possible for corporations to make profits for shareholders while addressing the plight of ordinary citizens and the environment.  Our times can no longer afford shareholder interests to outweigh all others.  Answer the call to create a new world.

And to artists the world over, don’t forget in this time of crisis that as a creative you have an obligation to communicate to the world through your art.  Yes we are going to suffer in various ways.  Use your time now to expand your mind, honor your visions and sing your wisdom.  This hour too shall pass and then you will be prepared for the new world, its challenges and gifts.

As I continue work on my memoir, Robin is fast at work in the metal studio. Unfortunately some shows are being cancelled, check our web-site for the latest on the schedule. Some of his new work, with descriptions below each:

“A Time Piece I” 18″ sq. copper clad over bentwood form, hammered, chemical patina, pocket watch gears. $950

12″ Sq Fold formed copper & stainless steel w/ multiple chemical patinas $350

Robin’s Extraordinary Metalwork

The quality that makes Robin L. Washburn’s work exceptional is his masterful patina on metal. Rarely can you see patina with the variety of color and patterns as his. Those luscious surfaces are the result of his years of experimenting. Recently he’s added hammering techniques to his repertoire to enhance the effects of the chemical oxidation. Cladding copper and brass over wood has enabled the hammering of the surfaces and also the ability to create three dimensional forms. His sculpture for the wall is truly unique and worthy of a closer look.

Unfortunately, back in 2010 I sidelined his career temporarily with a poor business decision for us to collaborate. We created some nice work together, but the metalwork aspect of it was minor and it stifled his ability to shine. 2018 was our last year of collaboration and since then Robin has grown his work considerably. The new metalwork takes up where he left off and moves into new territory. This winter he has experimented with new chemical formulas to grow his art and the results are beautiful. I am working on my memoir and standing back just watching him grow!

Following along as I post photos of both his work in progress and completed pieces on our facebook page, his Instagram page, our webpage and in our newsletter.

 

www.wolfcreekstudio.com 618-964-1217

email: artformyplanet@gmail.com

Instagram.com/robinlwashburn

Facebook.com/WolfCreekStudio

Blog: artlifebusiness.wordpress.com

 

Studio Hustle

In the depths of Winter Robin and I are each pursuing our own goals.  Robin is showing solo, a decision we made jointly last year.  He has come to like cladding copper over wooden supports–it is much lighter weight than his previous work.  Before we began collaborating 6 or 7 years ago, his sculpture was a much heavier copper, brass or steel sheet that he mounted onto bronze or steel angle framework.   He still intends to do some of that, but most of his new work will be copper cladding. We had to stop showing his former work because I had three accidents, one surgery and one broken bone all in one year and could no longer safely help him load and unload the van, set up the booth, etc.   So, yes I wrecked his career, just when he was creating marvelous work, getting into all of the top shows and winning important awards.  As I type I can hear him in his studio, tap.tap.tap  In two weeks he’ll be headed for Winter Park, FL for their wonderful show.  He will be taking new work that you can see here in progress:

2′ x 5′ Bentwood, copper clad

Several new 12″ Expressions undergoing patination

Meanwhile I’m having a bit of a second childhood playing in clay.  My latest sculpture is one with the working title “Tree Woman”.  She’s small, only just over a foot tall, without a pedestal.  Haven’t decided how she will be finished after firing. 

 

Divisions, Invisible Wounds/Visible Scars

Making art is what I do to cope with life… to maintain balance.    I’ve been an artist since I was a child, making music on the piano and organ and spending hours each week in the ballet studio.  At the age of 22 I began painting in earnest and later finished a BFA in painting and drawing.  While in art school I spent a year hand-building clay sculpture.  They were organic, abstract raku pieces.   I began my first series of clay torsos  in 2009.  They were all headless and obviously hollow.  The viewer could peer inside their bodies through arm, leg and neck holes.  I called these sculptures body vessels because the body is a vessel for our soul, our emotions, our hopes and desires but also because the term implies an inside and outside.  Our body becomes the reflection of where we’ve been. At the time, I wrote that “The series had been birthed from a lifetime of both pain and ecstasy as a daughter, sister, lover, wife, mother and friend.  All the roles I’ve lived are the source for these hand-built clay sculptures.  My struggle is the struggle of ‘woman’….I understand that for some the contemplation of these forms is unpleasant, however I would say that they reflect the ephemeral nature of life, they call into question the importance we place on our bodily image and they are a powerful metaphor for the difficulty of the journey through life for each of us, body and spirit.”

All of those thoughts still apply to the latest sculpture I’m working on, however the latest one has grown a head.   I’m thinking along the line of divisions.  Divisions in society, family, country.  Those divisions of family, race and economic status all inflict scars.  Ones hands can hold you up or down and in her case she has no way of grasping or defending herself.  Her shoulder caps lift upwards as though they are mini wings.  She’s without lower legs and feet and so has lost her mobility.  Unlike “Lady Liberty” who strides forth, undeterred.

Here’s a preview while she’s a work in progress.  

 

 

The Magic of Texture and Color

For all of our adult lives, Robin and I have been interested in mythology, symbolism, nature and meditation.  From the I Ching to the Tarot Cards, the poetry of Rumi, the way of the Samurai, Mother Earth Spirituality, and the teachings of Jesus we glean wisdom to live by.  Our collaborative art has I suppose been more than anything else, about making meditative icons.  We seek to make art of quiet contemplation to enhance living and working spaces.  Our newest sculpture places Robin’s patina work on center stage.  Making bentwood frames which he clads in copper or brass he’s been exploring wrapped patinas with hammered surfaces.  The result has been remarkable.  We’ve added found objects, enamel on copper and some painted wood elements to his designs.  Our new work can be seen Sept 7-9th in Clayton, MO at the highly esteemed St. Louis Art Fair and the following weekend, Sept 15-16 in Naperville, Il at the Riverwalk Art Fair, as well as on our web-site http://www.WolfCreekStudio.com

A Study in Texture 24″ x 60″

New Beginnings/Solar Flare

Some sculptures have a history and one of our newest ones is a perfect example.  We made “New Beginnings” and finished and signed it New Year’s Day 2014.   I never quite felt satisfied with it.  We rarely showed it in the several years since.  But just recently we did and someone liked the concept, but in different colors and with the “waves” horizontally positioned.  Se we removed the orb, the stainless, brass and copper.  I’m using those elements on another backplate, in a different color palette for them.   In the meantime, I’ve used this backplate and made a new square and added an enamel on copper orb.  The old version is here and the new version is below it.  The new one will be shown this weekend in Highland Park at the Port Clinton Art Fair.  It’s called “New Beginnings/Solar Flare”.New Beginnings euntitled

 

Nature as Inspiration

Ask any artist and you’re likely to be told that they’re inspired by nature.  It’s a given.  Nature is full of wonder and for artists it provides an impetus to create.  We see color, line, form and texture and it gets incorporated into our drawing, painting, and sculpting.

When Robin and I moved onto our 20 acres of woodlands, we immediately began sculpting the landscape by adding shrub borders, flowers and vines.  We relied heavily, though not exclusively on native species in order to support an abundance of wildlife.  Using the “architecture” of the rolling landscape and the tall trees we were blessed with, we’ve created habitat for more pollinators–bees, butterflies, moths, and birds.  We’ve added water features for amphibians, reptiles, dragonflies and fish.  Brush piles in various places in the deep woods provide habitat for mammals.  It’s all good for the health of the environment.

A walk through the “yard” area (approximately 3.5 acres) surrounding the house and studios will give you glimpses of countless species of birds, lizards, amphibians, fish and mammals.  The sights, sounds and smells provide a soothing experience of nature at its best.  We can not help but be inspired to create work that embodies the balance, texture, colors and forms of Mother Nature.  Our collaborative work is all about these things.  It is a discipline based on meditation.  From the crackled surface of the pond mud to the bark on the trees:

Where Ideas Come From

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked by visitors to our booth is how we come up with our ideas.  I can tell you they aren’t forced.  When an artist sits down to create something new, it doesn’t come out of thin air and it cannot be forcibly willed into being.  Rather, several things must come together simultaneously and that creates the magic.  For success, the groundwork must be laid and that means many hours and years of simply making—making work, utilizing tools, experimenting with mediums, drawing, painting, sculpting endlessly.  Whether the end result each time is good or poor or great doesn’t matter as much as putting in the time.  With that experience comes priceless abilities, obtainable in no other way.  It is a growth that builds upon itself endlessly.  In that process the artist develops the mental and physical tools necessary to bring ideas into the physical realm.  It makes possible the transfer of something ethereal in the mind into an object in the “real” world.

Secondly, every person is a result of their own unique physiology and life experience.  As an artist, everything you produce is a result of these two entities. All of your life experiences come together to produce the current you.  There is no way around that, for good or bad.   Every decision, every occurrence changes the person that you are.  And your own unique physiology reacts to every decision and experience further evolving your mind and body.  Therefore the art you create is a direct result of that life experience.  And it is a reflection of your philosophy, whether you consciously realize it or not.

All of that process is necessary, but it’s not enough.  Creating is not copying an idea you’ve already executed, or copying someone else’s idea.  Creating is stirring the pot and dipping out something fresh.  Of course you’re influenced by other artists.  That’s not only inevitable, but actually a good thing.  The key is to keep it as an influence not a replication.

There is a wellspring that is bottomless and it is within every person’s reach.  Tapping into it is necessary for creative growth, but the connection can be fugitive.  When it happens its magic.  This is what I mean when I say it cannot be forced.  It flows into your thoughts when you prepare the mind.  You have to allow it to come forth into the “light”.  This usually occurs in a relaxed state of mind—often when the eyes are closed and you allow unimpeded wandering. Day dreaming is not a waste of time as some would have you think. And often images come into my mind just before falling asleep.    Sometimes it’s erratic, with a quick flash and then it’s gone.  Other times when conditions are more perfect one can tap into a flowing stream of images and ideas.  Getting those down afterwards in sketches and notes is crucial to remembering the gist of the idea as well as the specifics.  And then you have the start of a series and more ideas will flow from that, if you return to that elusive universal flow of energy. We are blessed and it is important to remind ourselves of that.

Our Road Trip to Nowhere

I spent a lot of time thinking up names for our business blog.  In the end I settled on A Paradox:  Art-Life-Business.  Perhaps poorly stated, it was meant to show that for an artist, there really is no separation of our art making, our personal life and the inevitable struggle to make a living from our art, so we can keep making more art.  It’s difficult to be creative when you’re bogged down in worries.  This past week is a perfect example of how wrapped up our personal lives are with our business.

Wednesday morning we left home for Reston, VA to participate in the Northern Virginia Art Fair, one of the A-list shows in America.  We’ve been juried into it a number of times, most recently the past two years.  Sales are usually solid at this high quality show, and last year was very good.  Just after passing Louisville, Kentucky our van broke down. As we approached a weigh station (we have a box van to transport our sculpture and therefore are regulated by the federal department of transportation) we suspected trouble—at first it was only a slight noise coming from under the hood.  Robin parked, went inside and the officer gave him a printout of local tow truck operators, and he recommended the nearest one.  It was a quick diagnosis,  the vacuum pump seized up, shredding the serpentine belt, causing the loss of our power brakes and power steering.  The driver recommended two shops in the area that could possibly work on it right away.  One declined but the other said they could get to it the following morning.  After a night in a hotel, the van wasn’t ready to go until 2PM on Thursday.  Had we not run into trouble, we would be nearly finished setting up our booth at the show.  What to do?

Had it been a dozen or so years earlier, we would have driven on east to arrive by 1 AM, get a few short hours of sleep, be on the street by 6 AM setting up in a rush before the show opened at 10 AM.  But we’ve learned that we don’t have that kind of stamina anymore.  Heck, anymore we can’t even entertain or go out two nights in a row!  I know I wouldn’t have had the energy or presence of mind to smile at potential buyers and carry on a sensible discussion about our work.  That’s difficult enough for me under the best of circumstances.  Having grown up nearly always alone, my verbal communication skills are extremely poor.

So we made the decision to cancel our participation in the show.  We sacrificed our $750 corner booth fee.  The Hyatt at the show charged us for the first night ($120) as their policy is a three-day cancellation period before this show.  The tow was $228  and the repair bill was $891.  Losing potential for sales, is a real hardship.  The only good that came of it is that we got home to spend a few more days with our beloved Bull Mastiff, Harley.  Read about that gut-wrencher on my personal blog, http://www.HeadingforAndromeda.wordpress.com