I don’t think I have ever met a more enigmatic artist than Robert The. First of all, he was part of the “Rock &” show, howbeit under a pseudonym. His participation was shrouded in a conceptual mystery which only became clear at the exhibition opening. Beforehand, Robert had carefully arranged about 35 peices of Chert (rock that was used by Native Americans to make arrowheads and the early settlers for flints) gathered from a source near Allen Ginsberg’s home in Cherry Valley. The jagged shards (“Tradeable Goods” ) were priced at $1,000.00 each and it was clear that where Robert arranged them was where they would stay. At first, I was a bit confused but the reputation of Mr. The was such that I put my trust in his judgement and hoped for the best. During the opening, as fellow artist LDDD was reciting a poem to the accompaniment of drums and a digeridoo, Robert slowly walked through the darkness and lay down on the bed of sharp rocks. I watched him carefully, thinking this would be a 15 minute exercise at most but he remained there for a full hour, took a break, and then resumed his position for most of the evening and well into the night.
The performance ennobled the sculpture and revealed the thoughtful theory (with a dash of whimsy) which is at the core of Robert’s work. As a verbal intellectual who is fluid in art history and philosophy, it is easy to worry that Mr. The may encumber and entangle the visual experience of his artwork with the wordiness of ideas but he avoids that by allowing philosophy to stand seperately, side by side to his sculpture and draws independent, parallel relationships. Yes, its a bed of rocks AND a place for repose. Chert is historically used as a component for weapons AND it can suspend the gravity of the human body. Chert is inert yet this chert was energized near where Ginsberg wrote “Howl”. In creating this experience, the artist gives these extra dimensions to the reality of his work. In a way, by lying on a bed of jagged rocks, he spares us the discomfort of having to do so ourselves. I would venture to say that Mr. The’s motivation is a deep love for the world that inspires him and gives his art the humanistic meaning that we wouldn’t understand without his self-scarifice.
Naturally, I didn’t know what to expect with a studio visit to Robert’s Kingston factory space. What does an artist with such a conceptual bent have in their workplace? How does a studio manifest thoughts and ideas like the ones this artist is sorting out? Well, I should have known that it would be filled with books- “These are my crayons” I am told and it is true. If not used for their ideas and inspiration, the books are literally used to make sculpture. I am introduced to a piece in progress that is a commission for the permanent collection of a prominent mid-Western University. It is a book that is being carved into a lobster. And the carving isn’t any kind of superficial cookie cutter “cutting and stamping” but a deliberate, precise, razorsharp, proprietory technique developed by Mr. The that calls to mind the rare hand-crafts made obsolete by the advent of mechanics and computer guided machinery. This lobster configured from a red hard-cover book called “Art of the Masters” evokes an immediate smile for its whimsy but also admiration for its fierceness. The viewer contemplates the life of a lobster, the absurdity of its form, and the sacrifice of this amazing crustacean so we can have a meal. The parallel between the beast and the artist is clear and the fact of the creature being made of a book reveals the words and ideas that are the backbone of art.
Other carved work abounds: a scorpian made from an “Art Forum” magazine, the letter “B” from a book about Bad Hair, and guns of every type- perfect replicas of handguns, of shotguns and rifles- made from a variety of texts that present a darker idea of the lethal power of words. There is a reason why Robert The is in some of the most important collections in the art world: he has put his life on the line for his ideas and the passion shows. For more work of Mr. The’s, go to: www.bookdust.com