It is almost impossible for sculptures by David Robinson to go unnoticed—not least because they often reach heights of up to 25 feet. What’s even more striking, however, is how his figures, crafted in bronze, silver, and iron, are suspended in elegantly wrought tension. Robinson Studio Gallery’s epic works, often created in collaboration with architects and landscape designers, have graced private and public spaces for more than 25 years. GRAY goes into the studio with Robinson to better understand his artistic process.
What drives your creativity?
In a culture increasingly obsessed with efficiency, pragmatics, and low-cost production, the artist lives in a vocational state best described as a temporary stay of execution. Most days, simply staying aware of the enormous privilege of being a practicing artist is a good creative fuel supply. As an art student, I was told that the figure was dead, yet I remained captivated by the work of Giacometti, Moore, and Marini, and their endless capacity for iterations of the figure in space. I suppose I just stubbornly believed in the figure’s enduring potential—and I still do.
Tell us about the commission process—how do your sculptures go from concept to final form?
First I like to see the site and then go back to the studio to reflect on initial concepts and create maquettes, sketches, and a proposal. The conversation with my client then unfolds from there. The most successful pieces emerge when I feel a strong connection to the client. It’s not a rare occurrence—after all, if you’re in dialogue with a client, there’s already an overlap in your respective visions. A commission is more than a mere transaction; it’s a uniquely human interaction, using art as a transcendent communiqué.
How do you define success?
The most exciting thing about commissions is how clients present you with ‘problems’ you didn’t know you had. Finding unanticipated solutions—that’s success to me. I love the saying attributed to American playwright Edward Albee: ‘There are two things that ruin artists—success and failure.’ In truth, I’d like the resilience to fail a thousand times in the pursuit of one good work.
What career achievement are you proudest of?
I had major cardiac surgery a year ago, so I spent a lot of time in the Vancouver General Hospital. And then a few months ago, through the gift of a private donor, I was commissioned to do a piece for the hospital’s seven-story atrium. It’s incredibly gratifying to be able to give back to the hundreds of people who spend their days in that facility. The feedback during this process gave me that ‘aha’ experience of realizing how art can truly be a gift.
IMAGES: FROM TOP: Chair, composite bronze maquette, 2014. Device and Desire, one of Robinson’s signature pieces. Casting for Critical Mass, a private commission. Gaze, bronze, 2015. and Sculptor David Robinson working on the bronze. Images: Ken Maye.