Robert Dean Stockwell: Craps and Cutouts

by Bill Whaley

from The Taos Daily Horse Fly, Sept. 18, 2007




Artist Robert Dean Stockwell's new work, "Collages and Bones," will open Oct. 5, 5-7 p.m., and show through Nov. 15, 2007 at R.B. Ravens Gallery at 221 Paseo del Pueblo Sur, Taos. This will be the fifth major exhibition for the artist since a prior show at R.B. Ravens, in
Ranchos de Taos, Sept. 2004. During the intervening years, Stockwell has had two shows in Santa Monica, one at Craig Krull Gallery, in 2005, and one at Gerald Peters Gallery, 2006, in Dallas. The new show will feature sculptures made from "bones" or die (dice) and his collages.

According to critics, curators, and Stockwell himself, he works with found objects in the tradition or non-tradition of DaDa, assemblage, and surrealism. Curator Walter Hopps says in "The Spagyric Eye," a book about Stockwell's art, that the "collages have a degree of intensity both in composition and color rarely seen in the work of his contemporaries." Hopps calls the artist a close friend of "the late assemblage master Wallace Berman, whose life and nature affected many involved in the arts from the 1950s on." (Berman was a major influence among L.A. artists.) According to the Washington Post, Hopps, the curator, who died in 2005, introduced the equivalent of found artists to the east coast at the Washington Gallery of Modern Art (D.C.) and Corcoran Gallery of Art NY, including Andy Warhol, Ed
Ruscha, Ed Kienholz, and Frank Stella. Prior to that, Hopps influenced the art world's view of Barnett Newman, Joseph Cornell, and R. Crumb in Los Angeles. Later Hopps worked for the Menil Collection and the Guggenheim. Hopps places Stockwell in the context of the L.A. artist scene that began in the 50s, and gained momentum and national recognition in the 60s and continues today among its living practitioners. (Stockwell's friend, Dennis Hopper, is enjoying a retrospective of his work at the Hermitage Museum in St.
Petersburg, Russia.)

During an interview with Horse Fly, Stockwell referred to himself as a working actor but says he spends most of his time today in Taos creating collages and sculptures in his garage turned studio. Referring to the past when he spent much of his time working in movies, he says he met many of the major figures in the L.A. art scene. Years later, divorced, with the children grown up, he says he had the time to make art. He first came to Taos in the early 60s inspired by what he learned during his work on a movie adapted from D.H. Lawrence's novel, "Sons and Lovers" (in which he starred). "I've been coming once a year for 43 years," he said. Now he lives here most of the time and considers making art a step up from acting.

The new sculptures, stark reds, yellows, and blues built of bones or die - the kind you use for gambling or games - vary in size from tiny to table-lamp size. Some are embedded with tiny "Milagros" or fetishes meant to bring luck or relief to an aching foot or empty larder,
according to a local tradition. Some Stockwell sculptures have an Aztec-like mythic quality. Others epitomize a feeling of modernity. (I particularly liked a rather large cube balanced on a corner, which ought to be dedicated to Larry Bell in memory of his early glass work and his Vegas days.) The "Bones" are quirky and funny. They refract and reflect the light, suggest motion frozen in time, while maintaining their tactile attraction. Stockwell uses the language of the theatre, referring to the dramatic set pieces, saying they will
be back lit, and calls them by names like the "Handy Man Chorus" and "Crap Shooting Gallery."

The collages, on the other hand, cut and pasted together from found images in magazines and other sources (now forgotten, according to the artist) juxtapose and overlay a variety of images that pop out, recede, expose old photos and newer glossy imagery, while creating
equally palatable and equally unnerving assemblies of creativity. Here we have Hieronymus Bosch meets DaDa meets Wallace Berman meets Robert Dean Stockwell's mysterious fingers and mind in the twisted twilight zoned-out mirror. The images are weird, grotesque, fascinating, and provocative.

Stockwell says his art can be found in collections owned by Dennis Hopper, David Lynch, and Ed Ruscha among others. You can see this unusual exhibition at R.B. Ravens on Oct. 5. I saw some golf clubs in his studio.


The End