‘I am like an obsessed bird flying over life and looking down to pick words from wherever I find them…’
So said Rob Wynne in the artist statement from his exhibition IN COG NITO at Locks Gallery in 2011. Wynne’s hallmark is a somewhat recursive use of text—demands, notes, suggestions, observations—most of which challenge the viewer to access the other senses and go beyond the purely visible. The debris of dreams and the mind presented as enigmatic words or phrases and poetic quotations hidden beneath layers of irony highlight Wynne’s mastery of contradiction and his exploration of fixed meaning.
Rob Wynne lures his viewer in with the glitter and shine of glass and beads, a splash of color, and the playful whimsy of a fairy tale. Take for example the pale pink glass balls of Kismet in his 2009 show at Gavlak Gallery in Palm Beach, each with a single word strung delicately inside.
Look more closely however and a darker, philosophical side emerges. The same show features canvases printed with closely cropped details of Meissen figurines machine embroidered in dramatic colours with enigmatic words such as ‘FAUX’ emblazoned across them. Sometimes the glittering glass takes the form of a giant housefly hanging over the proceedings, or the spunky wallpaper is spattered with images of those same pests. Is it then ‘flypaper’ on view? Giant glass eyeballs gaze fixedly upward in another example of Wynne’s mastery of the Duchampian double entrendre.
Wynne’s work crosses mediums and runs the gamut from photograms and paintings on vellum, to machine embroidered canvases, hand screened wallpaper and elaborately molded and mirrored glass. Text runs through much of the work: phrases repeated, words branded across found images, and instructions given. Through it all the work begs the viewer to step in and form a relationship with or ponder the many cryptic and ironic layers of meaning—simultaneously seducing and repulsing with images and objects that make us aware of our selves as we make sense of them.
Wynne often appropriates found images as well as snippets of poetry, words, or phrases. In the embroidered paintings Come Back (2010) and And…(2010) Wynne contrasts neatly machine embroidered words over dramatically diffuse close ups of Meissen figurines. The words tell a story or raise a question while the image lulls the senses, again attracting and repulsing in search of meaning.
Appropriation is far too narrow a boundary, however, for this conceptual artist who creates his unique works with either hand beaded or machine sewn embroidery and pours hot molten glass in sculptural puddles which when assembled become whirlpools of spiraling dots, words or phrases, and magical forests of mushrooms.
When discussing the diversity of his current work, Wynne explains that the beaded embroidered drawings on vellum, such as those in his exhibit The Green Ray (2013) at Gavlak Gallery, are a meditative counterpoint to his works in poured glass. It took him a year to complete the full suite of works. Wynne intricately sews phrases such as ‘A Snowstorm of Flowers’ and ‘I Saw Myself See Myself’ with tiny glass beads meticulously threaded onto his vellum drawings.
A tangle of threads remains visible behind the sparkling words or shimmering creatures. The web behind the vellum creates another layer of intricacy and serves as a physical marker for the 50 hours of sewing each piece requires. Wynne gradually completes the drawings over many months in a series of fifteen-minute sittings. Additionally, Wynne says that for him the jumbled nest of string represents the confusion of language and the mind. Dyslexic since childhood, untangling language was a particular challenge for Wynne. Perhaps that jumble also signifies the artist or anyone ‘seeing themselves’ and all the messiness that goes on behind the scenes in any life.
The ladles of glass that Wynne and his assistant use to pour his sculptural text can weigh 30-50 pounds and the process requires precise measurement of both the ingredients and the temperature appropriate for achieving the colour and style of each project. Wynne accidentally discovered his technique years ago when he spilled the unwieldy liquid and was intrigued by the rough puddle that formed. His words and phrases, though they appear somewhat haphazard, are carefully articulated as they are poured and the glass cut. After the glass is formed into its desired shape it must be annealed. This is a slow cooling process that strengthens the glass and relieves areas of stress. The letters are mirrored before Wynne assembles the puzzle of diversely shaped and sized characters, often creating a shape and incongruous syntax that offers meaning beyond the words.
Though closely attuned to repetition and method, Wynne takes particular interest in imperfection. Take for example his unmatched wallpapers that are notable for their apparently uneven printing. Black octopuses float haphazardly across the blue sea of paper in his installation I Remember Ceramic Castles, Mermaids & Japanese Bridges (2013) at the Norton Museum of Art in Palm Beach, Florida. Wynne, seeking to avoid the look of a ‘diorama’, screen-printed some of the large sheets as installation progressed. In an earlier work, butterflies crowded the walls in Sleepwalking (1996) at Holly Solomon in New York.
In Rob Wynne’s world life does not ‘match up’. Images overlap and repeat, text obscures images, glass puddles in outsized letters, and enormous, unblinking eyes challenge the viewer. Beautiful images, intricate layers of shimmering glass and beads, and glass teardrops suspended on a wall lure the eye as surely as his text challenges the mind. Pausing to ponder Rob Wynne’s work is time well spent.
By Jessica Ransom
1: Installation View of ‘Kismet’, Gavlak Gallery
2: Come Back, 2010, And…2010, Rob Wynne
3: 9 Crazy Mushrooms, 2008, Rob Wynne
4: Installation View ‘The Green Ray’, Gavlak Gallery
5: Rue De Fleurs, 2012, Rob Wynne