Artist Spotlight: Dario Robleto

One of the great joys of the art fairs is to be exposed to galleries from around the country and world (it is also a tragedy—to discover a great gallery that isn’t a subway ride away!). In this case, I must find a good reason to go to Houston to see Inman Gallery and the work of Dario Robleto. His body of work that was on view at the ADAA Art Show (February 28 – March 3, 2019), Small Crafts on the Sisyphean Seas, is rife with beautiful tension and complexity.

I was drawn into Inman Gallery’s booth by Robleto’s intricate collages, which reminded me of Victorian curio cabinets. I engaged the gallery owner, Kerry Inman, in a fascinating conversation about the work, which indeed has its inspiration from the Victorian impulse to collect, categorize, arrange and display. Given that man-made climate change is endangering our planet and oceans to a catastrophic point, there is an ominous undertone to the preservationist quality of the work (will these species exist by the end of the century?), but the pleasing, decorative compositions soften the more sardonic implications of the piece. Robleto’s tightly organized tableaus at once poke fun at humans’ hubristic attempt to control and dominate our natural environment, but at the same time, we marvel at Robleto’s (read: Man’s) monk-like patience and ability to create the intricate details of the work (isn’t this why we’re at the top of the food chain?).

Robleto Naturalist Lament 2018
Dario Robleto, The Naturalist’s Lament, 2018. Cut paper, various cut and polished seashells, urchin spines, green tusks, squilla claws, mushroom coral, colored powder pigments and beads, colored crushed glass and wire, plastic domes, prints on paper, colored and mirrored Plexiglas, foam core, glue, frame. Image by Emily Casden, courtesy of Inman Gallery, Houston.
Robleto - Naturalist Lament detail
Dario Robleto, The Naturalist’s Lament, 2018, detail. Image courtesy of Inman Gallery, Houston.

But my mind was truly blown when Kerry told me about Robleto’s artist residency with the SETI Institute. That’s right: the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence Institute has an artist-in-residence program, to pose the incredible question: what if mathematics is not the universal (literally) language with which to communicate with alien life? What if we must communicate with E.T. visually, aesthetically? All art seeks to communicate in some way, but this is the first art I have experienced that seeks empathy with an alien species.

IMG_5386
Dario Robleto, Small Crafts on Sisyphean Seas, 2017-2018.  Cut and polished nautilus shells, various cut and polished seashells, various urchin spines and teeth, mushroom coral, green and white tusks, squilla claws, butterfly wings, colored pigments and beads, colored crushed glass and glitter, dyed mica flakes, pearlescent paint, cut paper, acrylic domes, brass rods, colored mirrored Plexiglas, glue, maple. Image by Emily Casden, courtesy of Inman Gallery, Houston.

At the core of his cross-species aesthetic program, Robleto focuses on the shell, particularly the nautilus: not only is it one of the oldest biological forms on our planet, but it does contain math in the golden ratio of its construction. Now we (read: Man) marvel at the power of Nature, and find empathy with Nature’s ability to create beauty as we do. The artful symmetry of the shell has made it a favorite decorative object for humans for millennia, for use in jewelry, ritual objects, and even currency. These intergalactic offerings encompass biology, history/time, mathematics, beauty and cultural significance–to quote the gallery’s press release, they perform “archival and emotional communication.” Any alien who would reject such a gift clearly has no taste at all.

shell_install
Dario Robleto, Small Crafts on Sisyphean Seas, 2017-2018, detail. Image courtesy of Inman Gallery, Houston
Robleto_Inman_Sisyphean_detail_1
Dario Robleto, Small Crafts on Sisyphean Seas, 2017-2018, detail. Image courtesy of Inman Gallery, Houston.

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