‘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… 

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

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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. 

 

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.

New Cosmos Series

Books are the physical embodiment of knowledge and enlightenment, the teller of stories, the keeper of secrets, and ultimately the record of our history.  These sculptural icons are our interpretation of this important cultural symbol.

Our little copper books are fun to make and delightful to many patrons.  Each book is a 12″square of wood, clad with copper and then hand-hammered or embossed with texture.  On each we make little books with copper pages that are bound together with silver wire and have a colorful backing.   The pages are hammered on the edges and then usually embossed with an elusive script to add mystery.  In the case of our newest ones, the pages are embossed with readable messages.  The first new set is a Cosmos Series and shown here is the first.Other little books that go with this one say Moon, Star, Sun, Venus, Comets.

 



Robin’s New Work & My Retreat

The Other Side

After a 6 year hiatus, Robin will be showing his incredible patinated metal art next year!  We’ve been collaborating since 2012, a decision that was made after breaking my elbow, having shoulder surgery, a torn bicep tendon and 2 dislocated fingers.  I couldn’t help Robin hang his work at the shows, because at that time, all of his work was very heavy, being made from a heavy gauge copper or brass with bronze angle framework on the back.  During the past 6 years he’s learned more skills and come up with ideas for making his work much lighter weight.  Some of the metal will be clad onto bentwood frames to give added dimension and all will feature his extraordinary patina work that is very painterly in approach and feel.  I’m so excited for him.  During the eight years he showed his work he did it all—got into the nations’ top shows, sold well and won many prestigious awards, including Best of Metal at the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Fine Craft Show.

I will be taking a much-needed retreat from the art shows.  I’m getting burnt out from the relentless pushing of a theme for the past 25 years.  Not many people outside the profession understand the hoops an artist must jump through just to get into the shows.  The part that is holding me back just now is that it can be a whole year or more from the time you finish a piece, photograph it, apply to shows with 5 or 6 other pieces that all visually make sense together and then actually do the show.  This makes it very difficult to explore different avenues, as the work you have in your booth must be like the images you juried in with.

I’ve got a persistent urge to work in clay, probably stemming from my pre-school years spent making mud pies!  Several years ago I did a series of clay torsos which was a very emotional response to my family situation.  Having moved on past that, the clay work I’ve done the past couple of years making flowers for our wooden boats, isn’t enough for me.  So while Robin shows his metalwork next year, I’ll be on a self-proclaimed sabbatical, exploring new themes.  I will accept commission work during this time, for anyone that wants a boat or Jewelry for the Wall sculpture.

Boats: Symbols of Life’s Journey

A boat once tragically altered my life and later a canoe signaled the beginning of my life with Robin, my best friend, my husband, my collaborator.  One of the important interests that Robin and I have shared from the beginning is our love of mythology, legend and symbolism.  It’s no wonder then that the boat has come front and center of our work.

We first employed the boat shape back in the 90’s, making relief sculpture for the wall.  Some of the best of these experiments was the Goddess of the Grove series which used the boat shape as a “cocoon” to house a goddess.  There were originally five of these 4′ sculptures, two of which are shown here:

We also made a sixth one which is larger and is in our personal collection and can be seen on our web-site under collaborative work.

The boats we began designing two years ago are quite different however.  The new ones are a celebration of the many varied journeys taken by humans.  As such, the shape of the boat, the materials used, the presentation and the objects accompanying it will vary.

Our preparations are in full swing now for our participation in this November’s prestigious Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Fine Craft Show.  In the past, all of our boats have been carved of wood.  Because together, we have skills in woodworking, painting, enameling, metalworking, metal patination and hand-building clay, we highly value the ability to utilize the materials we know and understand to produce the effect we’re after.  Because of this, we’ve been able to add clay flowers to the boat.  On one level that is just a wonderful aesthetic choice.  But on a deeper level, it symbolizes the importance of sheltering and caring for nature on one’s journey through life.  Saving the planet from man-made destruction to our environment is of the utmost importance.

Just as we’ve added clay objects to the wooden boats, we are now making some boats of clay.  The choice of whether to use wood or clay is made depending on what qualities we want the structure to have.  I’m using clay, when a more complex shape and surface is desired.  Wood is still our choice for the larger vessels and those with sleek shapes, such as this one, “Calla Lily Boat”.  People often mistake our wooden boats with their crackled finish for clay.  One artist commented recently that one of the most interesting aspects of our work is the air of mystery of how we do what we do and what we’re doing it with!calla-lily-vessel-detaileDetail of “Calla Lily Boat”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roses Adrift on the Sea

Trying out titles for one of the two new boats we will show at the Ann Arbor Original Art Fair in less than two weeks.  I’ve had to put aside my clay Earth Goddess work for a while–since it is not a collaborative piece we can’t show it in the shows we’ve juried into this year.  A previous blog tells more about her and she is half painted and waiting.  In the meantime I’ve been making clay roses to be placed in a long, sleek boat.  Here are some drying before firing.IMG_1606

After making 30-some roses, they must be left to dry for a considerable time–I error on the side of caution and left mine for about 3 weeks.

Loaded into the kiln along with some calla lilies and ready for firing at cone 05 (approx. 1885 degrees)IMG_1989[1]

It’s a 48 hour wait for the firing and complete cool down.  Opening the kiln before it is cooled completely can cause thermal shock, cracking and spoiling the sculpture.  In the meantime, I’ve crackled the boat that Robin carved into which I will arrange these roses after they’re painted.  Here’s the boat before I began painting it.

IMG_1991And, now that the roses and boat are painted, the double pedestal made and everything assembled, the finished sculpture is spectacular!

Roses Adrift on the Seae