Cutting Fine Figures

Thursday, October 9, 1997

Sculptor David Robinson asks us to look at each other through his eyes.

By Michael Scott, Sun Art Critic | The Vancouver Sun

Means and Ends: Figurative sculpture by David Robinson. Evergreen Cultural Centre, 1205 Pinetree Way, Coquitlam until Nov. 15.

Whether it's in life or in art. some people have a hard time with nudity.

Consider the reactions - found in the comment book - of some of the visitors to sculptor David Robinson's Inhabitants, currently on display at the Richmond Art Gallery. The show features six, anatomically-correct nude males created by the Vancouver artist.

"This place is discisting (sic) because it shows naked men (penises)," writes one visitor in what is clearly a child's hand.

Another adds, "I don't like it because it let you see the private part and I don't like to see gross things. And I am seven..."

Well, get used to it, folks. Not only are these sculptures on display at the gallery, they may be soon installed in a public place near you as an opportunity to consider some aspect of what it's like to be a living human being.

While smiling at the comments in the book - which contains many more positive responses to the show, Robinson says he is not out to offend people with his nudes. Instead, he would like viewers to see his male nudes as his meditations on what he strategically calls "the human condition."

He apologizes for not being more specific, partly because he is still working out the meaning of the show, but also because he is humble about his goals.

"I'm just trying to walk the path that is at my feet," he tells the News. "It's a funny kind of show because it's very personal."

The six figures he has created possess a genuinely human and personal appeal. Robinson works from the inside out, creating styrofoam and wire skeletons with articulating limbs. He poses them, hardens them with burlap and plaster and then layers on more plaster bit by a bit. The effect, ranging from roughly hewn to more detailed, is to create a living sense of depth to the forms.

Robinson refuses to add color to, or sculpt clothes or even hair on, his works because he believes the additions would rob the figures of their power as universal symbols. Universal figures that, ironically, Robinson hopes have the deftness to speak to the particular view-point of the watcher.

Robinson says interpretations of the nudes can vary. During a visit by the News to the show, the figures seemed to share a common humility, especially in their weak-seeming poses.

One figure, looking like he is in pain or fear, hangs from a bar tied to a rope from the ceiling. A seated figure looks compliant. A standing man seems absorbed in loneliness.

The capacity of a conservative-minded community like Richmond to accept the nudes as objects of humanistic reflection will be put to the test after the exhibit wraps up June 29. Robinson is making polymer-gyspum casts of the statues for placement in publicly visible spots in the city and other locations in the Lower Mainland.

For example, Robinson would like the standing figure to be in an elevator, and the hanging nude to be strung from a construction crane. He hopes people seeing the figures in unexpected places will be startled into retrieving a sense of the personal and the human in the often impersonal and subhuman expanse of the city.

"It is my hope these figures return us to a sense of place," he says.