A return to the studio
By: Mark Naugle
Robert Calvo was one of the most recognized names in public art during the 1990s and early 2000s. It has been several years since Robert has pursued Public Art commissions in order to focus on his studio work. What has caused this shift? I wanted to know, and conducted an interview with Robert over August and September, 2009. His views on Public Art, process, and politics are intriguing:
MN: What was your first AIPP project using terrazzo?
RC: “The first commission I applied for was for Miami light rail; a set of three designs in terrazzo, one for each station downtown. I didn’t get the job, but as it turned out it was a great preparation and learning experience for when “Concourse “H” came along at MIA. My first actual commission was a pair of (steel) bridges at Horizon (Now Al Lopez) Park in Tampa, Florida.”
MN: After working in other media (metals, plastica, paint, paper) Why did you select terrazzo for the MIA Concourse “H” piece?
RC: “For me; having been educated as a graphic designer, terrazzo was the obvious choice for easily translating a very graphic and detailed large scale picture. The color palette was unrestricted and all the materials extremely permanent.”
MN: We really enjoyed working with you on MIA’s Concourse H “Flight Patterns” as well as the TIA piece. How was your experience working with Steward-Mellon on these projects? (Be honest, we can take it!)
RC: “A great number of problems can arise on an integrated, large scale job such as the airport commissions I’ve done with SM. I can honestly say however that had other agencies involved in my public art works been half as professional and thoughtful as Steward-Mellon, I would still be involved with public art today.”
MN: Could you provide us links to some of your other AIPP projects?
RC: “Here’s a list of links; some terrazzo, some in other media:”
1. http://data.racc.org/pubart/index.php (then fill “Robert Calvo”)
MN: You have not been pursuing public art commissions in favor of doing studio work for the past several years. What caused this shift in focus?
RC: “My 15 year stint doing public art began with a set of 2 (steel) bridges in a park in Tampa, Florida. It was a thrilling thing to be a part of; so much larger physically and conceptually than previous sculpture and mixed media works I’d done.”
“However, there were at least 4 levels of bureaucratic involvement on that first project (City, County, State and Federal wetlands agencies) and that should have told me something. But I was too enamored of the scale at which I was working, and of course seduced by the money involved in an artwork of this size. I weathered all the changes to my original design and ended up with something less than I started with.”
“About that same time I acquired a commission at a hospital in Gainesville (Shands), making a set of relief sculptures that were true to the studio/gallery work I was doing at the time. The themes were the same as in the bridges project but the 7 pieces were of a size that I could work with on my own and only one art consultant was involved. The design was approved in a set of sketches and I went to work. I had a few other similar large commissions that allowed me to work in this logical and enjoyable fashion. Again I should have paid more attention to how I wanted to be involved in the art but not in the bureaucracy.”
Here is an example of what can go wrong with the system:
“The image below is a working drawing (detail of 6). Done as a finalist, chosen for project, and superseded by an artist friend of an Alachua County Commissioner from Gainesville without approval of the local arts commission. One of many reasons I feel the system is corrupt, manipulative and used as a political tool.” -RC
(ironically, the project contained the words “tolerance, vigilance and truth”)
MN: Aside from your AIPP work, you have a long history of studio work. I have seen your sculptural work locally at the Gulf Coast Museum (sadly, now closed), the Tampa Museum of Art, and the Polk Museum. I have also seen your more recent collage/acrylic works at the Elizabeth Leach Gallery. What are you currently working on, and what does the future hold for you as an artist?
RC: “Here are some links to galleries that represent me:”
DAVIS & CLINE GALLERY
“As to what the future holds, I’ve been off the public art circuit for about 4 years, if you don’t count the project in Miramar (which was 10 years in the making!) I’m supplementing my income now with work as an art installer and art shipper along the West coast.This I do with a flexible enough schedule to paint in the studio 2-3 days a week. I’ve been working on pictures that I hope contain some of the spirit of early modernism; Klee, Miro, Kandinsky etc. Indeed a long way from my life and work in Florida.I feel these new pieces are more energetic with more control over color. The images emerge from a background full of earlier elements and shapes from previous paintings. It has not been a neat and easy transition. Ambitious artists with day jobs are usually much younger.The desire to make the work exists outside the world of commerce and the desire for success. You simply must make the work or you leave a hole in your heart & mind. I think that’s the hardest thing to come to grips with. You may never have an established career and financial security but you do the work. Expectations beyond that should not deter you. So I will continue to make things regardless of circumstances. I’ll be alright. I have a wonderful partner in Cathy and her family is very warm and welcoming to me.”
“I just turned 60 July 15th.”