‘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… 

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″

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.

Hot From the Kiln

The newest bentwood set of three are finished.  This tryptich titled “Fractured I, II and III” incorporate enamel on copper, hammered and patinated brass and paint on wood.  Enameling is a process of firing ground glass onto a metal surface, in this case copper.  The glass is fired at 1480 degrees for approximately 4 minutes.  It goes in looking like fine colored sand and comes out glowing red.  As it cools the colors develop.  Robin has achieved beautiful patterns of colors on these.  For details on this series, including sizes, materials, prices, etc., see our link Jewelry for the Wall on our webpage http://www.WolfCreekStudio.com

 

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”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Opening the Kiln

Working in clay has its own mystery and nothing about it is more exhilarating than opening the kiln.  The kiln gods have always smiled upon me thus far.  Sometimes a ceramist opens the kiln to find that something has blown up from having a trapped air bubble somewhere in the clay, or the sculpture or pottery has been fired while it was still green, a term for describing clay before it has dried out sufficiently.  I fired the ‘garden goddess’ this week along with a ceramic boat and a bunch of calla lily flowers I made for some of our wooden boats as well as the centerpiece of her garden which I’m keeping secret for the moment.  It was with much anticipation that we opened the kiln this morning to find this:

Success!  I’m anxious to begin the finishing of this goddess with acrylic paint, oil glazes and possibly prismacolor to create a reminder  of the Earth Mother Goddess, the symbol of The Gaia Theory.

In All Her Glory

So my concept began with the idea of using the female torso sculpted in clay to express  the nature of our relationship to the rest of the planet.  Historically, humans have related to the creative force of the universe anthropomorphically.  It’s a concept that makes sense to us on several levels.  And in the 20th Century there was  a theory put forth by the chemist James Lovelock and the microbiologist Lynn Margulis in the 1970’s.  On its most basic level it is the idea that the Earth is a living organism, of which we are a part.  It’s a theory that’s never garnered much appreciation, however it had a big and positive impact on my world view.

Loosely interpreted, the theory can support the image of Earth as our mother, a goddess, that provides us with an idyllic world in which to thrive.  Now that we humans have the capability to destroy that world, it begs the question what are we going to do with that power?

And so for this first sculpture I chose to start in a very straightforward manner, marrying the image of the goddess’ body with a garden.  And so early last month I started hand-building the earthenware.  I use a grey clay, that fires white–the perfect base for later finish work with colored pigments.  It’s been 2 years since I last worked in clay, and I am anxious, impatient and rusty.  The result is I built the slabs a little too quickly at first, resulting in some slumping.  My philosophy is that what I lack in skill, I have to make up in creative adaptation.  What began like this,

Beginningended up looking much more voluptuous like the Venus of Willendorf, which appealed to me anyway, so I moved on to the making of the garden.

In the Beginning

Some Things Are Just Meant To Be

When it comes to making art, not all pieces are equal.  No matter how long you’ve been creating, the process is never the same, the results are not predictable.  Copying something is one thing, creating something new is entirely different.  So Robin and I have been working on a series of sculptures around the theme of books.  Books and art are full of meaning and it seems natural to us to combine the two to play off of each other.  Back in June I made a backplate  in a crackled finish  that I painted to resemble a gaseous star galaxy, not unexpected from me since much of my work the past  15 years or so has been inspired at least partially by our place in the cosmos.  Resting on it I placed three “tablets” with copper books on them.  As soon as Robin saw the finished piece he immediately said, “Oh, it’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy!”  I loved it and thus it was signed an named so.

We took it to Ann Arbor and it was well received, but it didn’t find a home.  However, on Labor Day weekend in Chicago a lady asked permission to take a photo to show her husband.  She later called and asked us to bring it by.  The house was full of people celebrating a birthday.  There were oohs and ahs over the piece,  not only because it is beautiful, but the home it found was perfect in every way.  The lines, the colors and the materials meshed with and complimented those in the beautiful room it now resides in.  We couldn’t be happier with the results.  But people make a story and this couple is very special.  He is in hospice, and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is his metaphorical roadmap.

  Hitch 1Hitch 2