born 1947, Edmund, Oklahoma
Robert is a self-taught artist. Although he has a PhD in mycology (the study of mushrooms and molds), he has never taken a formal visual arts course. Many of his art making skills come from what he learned as a youth. In his grandfather’s blacksmith shop he learned welding and in a machine shop building sawmill equipment, he learned metal fabrication. Currently, he learns through experimentation and by watching online instructional videos.
In 2003, when he retired from the University of Michigan as a Biology Professor, he began making art to use his skills and share his experiences collecting fungi in the Great Basin. He started by making painted or patinaed welded steel wall sculptures. His recent pieces are shaped paintings constructed from spray painted, laser-cut polygons glued on cradled birch wood panels.
Simplified landscapes are Robert’s primary subjects. He finds inspiration in memories of locations he has visited. He said a successful piece puts him in a place where he can remember the temperature, the smell of crushed sage, the physiography, the weather, and the animals he encountered that particular day. The rich descriptive names for sites also trigger art making ideas. He is particularly drawn to the lines and forms of desert landscapes and challenges himself to focus on the landscape’s strongest elements and minimize details that may cloud the mental picture of a site.
Robert’s work makes environmental statements. It illustrates the ecological consequences and probable outcomes of past and present decisions. For example, his exhibited work, Neglect on the Range, demonstrates the impact of overgrazing by domestic animals and the impact of poisonous plants allowed to flourish in overgrazed areas. Red skies in his art signify situations that negatively impact the structure and productivity of ecosystems.