Deconstructed body parts are commonplace in Robyn Gibson’s Devonport studio. Anatomical shards in every conceivable shape and size are spread from cluttered corner to cluttered corner across every crumpled crevice and paint-splattered surface. Effigies await the magician to conjure them into some composite of her imagination.
Robyn walks among giant legs made from found polythene and stuffed newspaper, across old floor mats with painted faces, showing me $2shop figurines fighting battles in boxes while transferring painted heads onto anything deemed fit to be a torso.
“I’ve been collecting this stuff for years and years, as you do,’ says Robyn, “you, you go the op shop and see something and think this is fantastic I will use that one day. I've been given bags of old cattle bones that I have painted and am about to make into sculptural pieces using old doweling. I'm always curious about what people throw out, I found a fantastic box of stuff on the side of Albert Road, it even had an intact emu egg. Recently someone left a bag of branches at the door, I thought who is the cheeky bastard that left these. Then I looked at them and thought these are fantastic. They’re really neat. I have just started using them. Man trees?
I’ve always done assemblage. Right back to art school I was heavily influenced by Joseph Cornel then. My first works were in old drawers and old boxes marrying painting with collage and they sold like crazy. Assemblage is a real freedom. Painting on the other hand is constantly difficult. Assemblage is fun, entertaining it can make your day. Painting will drive me crazy, I can be working on something and walk away, angst over it for days or even weeks. Come back to it rework it paint over it, revisit and then in one stroke you can ruin it.
Early on I discovered automatism, writing specifically, because I used to write like that for myself. People would read it and they'd trash me because there were no full stops or capital letters, people didn’t get it. Then I discovered the automatic writers and I thought Bing! After that I just wrote and wrote all this madness down and then realised how good it was to do that, to puke it out.
I always keep a journal, I’ve got around thirty years worth that I still refer to. Often I’ll pick up a book and think ah that’s right that works now. A while a go I started doing sound pictures.
I don’t often name my pieces. I’m not precious, I don’t really kind a give a shit once its done its done. I learn from making them. There are some things I’ve had a around for years that I’m not really interested in selling. The things themselves to me are fun things. I never make something that I think this is going to be worth thousands of bucks and I must hold onto it, its not how I work.
I showed at the National Gallery of Australia in Victoria in a group show about water, the industry of water and the effects on the deserts. The need for it to be clean. I entered a cow skin that I had shaved and painted the centre of it with red wool coming out of it as though it was bleeding. The other work was this very long piece with 52 faces and heads with holes drilled for their mouths and great big long plastic tubes coming out all over the floor and all around. As a young, up and coming artist it was hugely exciting to stand outside the gallery and know you had work in there."
While showing in prestigious galleries might be considered a highlight in any artist's career Robyn believes one of her biggest achievements to date is managing to work through a particularly lengthy low ebb in her work life. "I lived in Australia for many years and did OK. I came home in the 90's, had a city studio and was selling well through Warwick Henderson Gallery. I did my masters but after a few years I just needed a break. I moved up north to Ngunguru and pretty much stopped work. I did a few commissions but wasn't felling it. I fell in love with gardening and building a house, the work slipped away for 5 years. When all that fell through, I came back to Auckland and my friends gave me the use of a studio under their beautiful house.
I moved in with gusto and started working again and then realised what I was producing was just shit. But I thought I’ll just keep going and not worry. But I was worried because I needed an income. I either needed to get a job or start producing works that sold. And that is not an easy thing.
But I kept going and started to sell little bits and I was able to make a living. But I wasn’t that happy with the works. I felt shit because I thought the works were shit.
For three years I kept slapping myself around, trying to make a living, trying to figure out what other people want, when really it is all about you enjoying your practice. You focus in every which way but on doing what you do.
I think what I do is have fun. I love what I do. I have my own personal jokes, laughing at what I do, cracking myself up. Now I’m think what am I doing? This is madness, I’m never going to sell that, but it doesn’t matter.
The support of my friends and my work with the Depot Art Space (Robyn is a curator there) is just gold. Without them I would have probably limped on or moved into writing or making weird movies on my computer but it is the physicalness of making things that is thirst quenching for me.
It is hugely luxurious to be in a zone like that. Because it really is not easy. I may not be consistent as far as the works go but I will always be consistent on the work-making side of things."
For more Robyn check here.
For more Robyn check here.