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Robin Howard

Robin Howard’s shadow boxes of ephemera and unusual objects seem like an artistic love child between the famously reclusive, found-object artist Aldwyth, a touch of local artist Hirona Matsuda, with more color and literary influences, and a larger world perspective. She was featured on Show & Tell Art & Design, curated by art patron and local tastemaker Leila Davenport Ross.

Q: ‘Outsider Art’ is a term that a lot of audience members struggle with. What does the term mean to you, what makes you identify with it?

A: Traditionally Outsider artists have no formal training and are unaware of the art market and the value of art. They make art from whatever they can find and are driven by a deep compulsion to express personal truth. The resulting art is so raw, so vulnerable and sincere that it speaks directly from one person’s soul to another’s. Even though I eventually had some training as a papermaker, I do identify with being an Outsider because I have always created out of an almost painful compulsion to express things I can’t put into words. Assemblage is usually an Outsider medium because we see how broken, discarded things can have a beautiful new story. Outsiders usually have histories of intense struggle, so assemblage is absolutely a metaphor for a primal belief in hope. In that way, I’ll always be an Outsider. And, if ever I stop being an Outsider, I’ll stop being an artist.

Many years ago I did what lots of yoga-practicing people do and I wrote to a great yogi (Yogi Bhajan) and asked him to give me a spiritual name. He gave me the name “Adi Shakti” – which translates to “God’s Primal Creativity”. He’d never met me and he didn’t know anything about me. Primal creativity is a thread that runs through my whole life. It was an affirmation that primal creativity is how I’m meant to uplift the people with whom I interact.

Q: How has your study of anthropology influenced your artwork?

A: As an anthropologist I learned to study cast off things and ask myself what story these little bits can tell me about the human experience. Once you learn to put yourself in the right frame of mind, you can dig up a backyard in a populated area and learn what former inhabitants wanted, what they ached for, what they loved, what they rejected, what they wanted to project and what they hid. The experience of being a human fascinates me, and material things always tell the true story of an experience. I was always an intuitive found-object artist, but once I learned to “read” objects as an archaeologist, I was able to improve my fluency in the language of symbols.

Q: Please tell us a little about your experience teaching paper making in Africa.

A: I went as a scriptwriter with a documentary film crew to tell the story of the AIDS clinics in Kenya. When I got there, a casual conversation with one of the doctors revealed that the women they were treating had access to anti-retrovirals but they were starving to death because they were rejected by their families. They needed to be able to support themselves. The doctors were trying to figure out how to get a papermaker to come to this tiny village and teach the women to make notecards. When they learned the Universe had just sent one, it was a very sacred moment for all of us. I realize how woo-woo that sounds, but believe me – it was impossible to not realize that wasn’t a coincidence. I never wrote a word of that script. My best friend is an artist and she went six months later and refined the process and she still goes back about once a year. Today Imani Workshops exports beautiful paper all over the world, better paper than I’ll ever make. I’m so grateful for that experience and I’m so proud of them. It was the most life-affirming experience I’ve ever had.

Q: Creative inspiration can be a finicky bedfellow; do you ever feel the maker’s equivalent of writer’s block? How do you move beyond it?

A: I rarely have writer’s block but I make up for it with plenty of artist’s block. Showing my art makes me feel so vulnerable that I frequently shut down, panic, pack up all my materials and declare myself retired. Then in a few weeks or months (I took five years off once) the compulsion shows up again and before I know it I’m arranging things on board or in a box. The first pieces that come out of the return are usually very powerful and pure. It’s funny, my dad was a woodworker and I recently recalled him behaving the exact same way. He’d be really prolific then he’d sell all his tools. Then he’d buy them all back because he had an idea and he had to chase it. I wish I had a more evolved approach to creative anxiety, but I figure as long as I have both of my ears I’m doing okay. (As a writer I have editors who kindly and honestly evaluate my work, push me to do my best and protect me from the rest of the world so I can create. That helps eliminate writer’s anxiety and block. I’d like to have someone in a similar role in my artistic life!)

Q: Tell us about the names of your “gallery managers”…

A: Bindi and Snigdha are rescues and they keep me company all day. Every morning I say “Come on, let’s go to work!” and they trot into the studio with me. (FYI, they’re her cats!)

Q: What about your typewriter? The fifty pound one you’d carry with you through a hurricane…what is the significance?

A: Words play a big role in my art. I like the way typing on that old Royal feels like chiseling words in stone. I like the gravity of typing on a typewriter. I like the nostalgic look of the typeface. I like the sound it makes. I like the little “ding” at the end of a paragraph. I like that if I make a mistake I have to start all over again. I have to be present when I’m typing. When you see a piece of typewritten paper in my work, know it’s a tiny piece of art within the art.

Get Social with Robin Howard!




Instagram: Bindikitty

Twitter: @robinwordbird

Interview: Stacy Huggins

Art Mecca of Charleston
427 King Street, Charleston SC 29403


Posted in Visual on July 16, 2014 (Summer 2014) by admin.

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