‘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
Link to load-in video:

‘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

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. 

 

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

Another August Passing

Debra's pondAnother August is passing.  This one has been very productive in that I’ve designed a two new series of boats, The Hanging Boats and The Flying Boats.  I expect to have three Hanging Boats completed to show  at The Philadelphia Museum Show in November.  One of them is an ode to youth lost too soon.  It will hang by silk threads and butterflies.  An artist doesn’t escape from their life experience.   Our lives get intertwined with our art making and so our art, our personal life and our business is forged together.

The Story Behind “The Crow’s Nest”

I’ve a penchant for symboliCrow's Nest e-mailsm and “The Crow’s Nest” is full of it.  Aside from the boat being a symbol of the journey of the soul and the nest symbolizing the home and security, this sculpture has a more personal story.  Robin is fond of telling the story of how I proposed to him on our first date when I found out he had a 17′ Old Town canoe.  We’re also very aware of the significance in the adage “don’t miss the boat”.  This sculpture is a marriage of our lives.  The shape of this boat is entirely Robin’s design and I love the sleek lines.  He carved it and gave it to me to texture and paint.  Together we designed the pedestal upon which the boat rests.  It’s structure is a pleasing arc but massive enough to create a stable foundation.  On the boat rests a copper crow’s nest–a metaphor for not only a sailing ship’s lookout, but the home for Robin’s old crow, namely me.  And when the nest came to rest there, is when the boat became a vessel.

Studio Progress

If you’ve followed our pursuits in the past year,  you know about the fast transition we made to the making of boats and books this year.  We have a working process of experimenting with materials and techniques on our art for the wall, and then these new ideas are incorporated into the boats.  With Robin  taking time once again to experiment on hammering, embossing and patina work lately, I can see already such grand statement pieces utilizing the approach in this new 12″ square.  These are hot!

Embossed & hammered copper w/chemical patina

Embossed & hammered copper w/chemical patina

Embossing2

Embossed and hammered copper w/chemical patina

Don’t Miss the Boat

Artists can’t afford to miss the boat.  A lost opportunity means a harder journey.  In order to grow, which is the ultimate aim of the artist, one has to take risks.  You have to experiment and many of those turn out badly.  You have to take chances to evolve.  Not just any risk, but one that sets sail with good intention.

The boat is the symbol for the spiritual journey and as such it is the perfect icon for Robin and I to explore.  The first date we had, he revealed to me that he owned a 17 foot red, yes I said red, Old Town canoe.  Without missing a stroke, I asked him to marry me.  I was kidding of course, or so I thought.   One’s subconscious knows infinitely more than the conscious and so maybe she already knew his soul and knew he was who I was looking for.  She probably already knew he had similar goals and philosophy. A year after that we began a 24/7 relationship that is going strong and can survive which ever boat life presents.

By the way, later that first evening, I told him that I was an artist and that as a matter of fact that very afternoon I had bought a new table saw.  He said, “Oh, really!  Will you marry me?”

Pea Pod Boat

Pea Pod Boat

Icons

We’ve spent the majority of our studio time the past few years in a disciplined discovery of incorporating textures and color on a variety of media working within a geometric format, namely the square and rectangle.  It was a way of getting back to the basics and learning to recombine our skills to create relief sculpture that is dramatic, focused, and beautiful.  Though we still find this challenging, we’re breaking loose now.  Rather than concentrate only on formal issues of design it’s time to introduce iconic images.

Throughout our years together, Robin and I have often referred to the tale of missing the boat, the boat being a symbol of opportunity. In cultures throughout the world, the boat has represented the spiritual journey, exploration of the world, and a vehicle for acquiring food. As culture evolved  and people gained more free time, the boat became a vehicle for recreation.

We’ve latched onto this powerful symbol at this time because we’re re-inventing ourselves once again.  Our situation is ripe for it.  The boat is carrying us forward in our quest.

Our latest boat is the largest so far, 5′ in length.  It’s sleek lines are an elegant statement, but this boat has cargo.  It carries another icon, a bird’s nest, symbol of protection, of security, of birth and home.  Where will this take us?

Crow's Nest e-mail

“The Crow’s Nest”  59.5″W x 24″T x 11″D  Polychromed wood, hickory deck  with copper nails, pedestal of hammered copper with chemical patina, nest of brazed re-cycled copper $9800