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Beyond Duality: The Surreal Sculptures Of American Artist Robin Whiteman

Beyond Duality: The Surreal Sculptures Of American Artist Robin Whiteman

© Robin Whiteman // “Shroud” // Porcelain Sculpture (2016)

Sculpture is defined as the branch of the visual arts that operates in three dimensions. The delicate porcelain pieces of American sculptress Robin Whiteman, however, operate on a spiritual dimension as well. Her fairytale-like characters and human-animal hybrids devoid of color explain a universal truth: the center of things beyond duality.

// Robin, you have worked with clay since the early age of eleven. How can one imagine your very first sculptures?
I remember making a Madonna and a guinea pig around the same time, so not much has changed! I was lucky enough to have a teacher who saw something in me.  He took me aside one morning and said  ”some people can make a prune that looks just like a prune, but some people can make a prune that has magic.“

» The power often comes from the less human elements. «

Today, in your work you often create human-animal hybrids. What do they symbolize? 
They usually represent states of being. The various characters play different social/psychological roles.  For example, the power often comes from the less human elements in the sculpture.

What role do philosophy, spirituality, religion and mythological stories play in your life and in your work?

Some of my first artistic inspirations came from the Catholic imagery I grew up with. Although I’m not comfortable with Catholic dogma these days, or any dogma for that matter, I find certain religious traditions to be extremely rich. We in the States – and I think in many places – are suffering from a lack of depth and connection.  To me, spiritual practice, whatever form it takes can be an antidote to this. Sculpting is a big part of my own spiritual practice.

© Robin Whiteman // “Cub” // Porcelain Sculpture (2017)

You reside in the Finger Lakes region of New York and have pet goats… Animals, such as bears, deer, donkeys, wolves, nature in general seem to be an important influence to you?
Believe it or not, goats are kind of a “thing” in the States these days.  Not that it’s usual to have pet goats but it’s oddly trendy to want them.  I’ve always been an animal lover and desperately wanted pets as a child.  I had to be content with stuffed animals then, so I guess I went a little crazy as an adult.  I have a veritable pet cemetery in the yard from all the fur babies we’ve buried.

I live on a hill between two lakes. We have a murder of crows that like to hang out in the yard and eat the compost. Bears are spotted on occasion. The sounds of coyotes, fox, and owls echo at night. Nature helps keep me sane.

» My art is influenced by my imagination which is influenced by the outside world. «

Would you say that your work is more influenced by the outside world and your surroundings or by the inside world, thoughts and stories?
Hmm… My art is influenced by my imagination which is influenced by the outside world. Often, I create new forms without any clue why or what they are about. Eventually my thinking mind catches up and I see connections.  

You are best known for your smaller, more delicate porcelain pieces, but you also create larger, life size sculptures. Are both done entirely by without the use of molds? 
Yes, although I respect the skill of mold making I have no interest in doing it myself.

Which one do you like better?
Without a doubt I enjoy the tiny pieces the most at this point. They feel like friends and the process of creating them is sweetly intimate. They are powerful without dominating the space, they use less material and require less energy to fire. They also are easier on my body. When I was younger I had such vast amounts of unfocused energy that big was the only way to go. Motherhood has focused me unlike anything I’ve ever experienced and also made my world feel much smaller. 

When I first switched over from large work I wasn’t taken seriously which of course only made me dig my heels in deeper. I’m glad I didn’t listen to my critics.

© Robin Whiteman // “My Curious Shadow” // Porcelain Sculpture (2017)

Are you mostly proud and satisfied after you finished a piece and is it easy or hard to part with it when you sell it?
I feel calmer when a piece is finished but never really satisfied.  I’m interested in the process mostly, and how the work is continually evolving, even if subtly.

The first post on your webpage is a very personal statement, talking about how the culture and landscape of America change in alarming ways, but also your parent’s struggle with dementia, the terror of your own cancer diagnosis, as well as your sisters… Would you say that creating your pieces is some sort of therapy or treatment?

There is a quote from the poet Adrien Rich that I found when I was 15.  I think it says it all. “I am an instrument in the shape of a woman translating pulsations into images for the relaxation of the body and the reconstruction of the mind.”

» Everything is changing. Everything either evolves or dies. «

Also, at the end of the statement you write “I am and am not the same person I was a year ago” – does that go for your art as well?
Of course! Everything is changing. Everything either evolves or dies.

You are showing four pieces at the group show Shades Of Black, which is currently on view at Munich’s Størpunkt Gallery. What does black mean to you personally, as an artist, as a mindset, as a color, as a feeling?
Black is depth and possibility to me. I think of deep water, fertile soil, infinite space. 

Would you please complete the sentence “…. as long as it’s black” in a way that characterizes you?
I’ll eat that … as long as it’s black. //

AS LONG AS IT’S BLACK is a blogazine for those who find inspiration, pleasure and beauty in darkness. Who search for it in music, art, fashion, literature, places and other people. Who pay attention to obscure details and dare to take a deeper look. Who enjoy being different, but find comfort in knowing that they are not alone. AS LONG AS IT’S BLACK is a mindset, a cross-referencer and a common denominator – beyond cliché and niche, genre and gender, limits and boundaries. It unites and invites those who share a passion for everything AS LONG AS IT’S BLACK.

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