Walter Maciel Gallery will open the 2012 exhibition season with a show of new sculptures and drawings by Oakland based artist Robb Putnam. The show entitled Castoffs will be Putnam’s second solo exhibition with the gallery and continues his portrayals of oversized stuffed dogs. Putnam presents three different series of work: full body standing dogs, whimsical dog heads and animated drawings.
The sculptures are created from old clothing, fake fur, shredded rags, loose threads, plastic bags, mesh back packs and vinyl pouches that start from inner cores of layered fabric built around cleverly planned support systems. Each creature takes on distinct characteristics from overgrown snouts and large ears to disproportionate limbs and personable gestures to create one-of-a-kind breeds. Most of the subjects appear physically and psychologically vulnerable as if once desired by a child in a former pristine condition but now tossed aside to wither away in loneliness. The oversized misfits confront the viewer with a slight nod of the head or gesture of the body to disguise their repellant demeanors and allow for a closer examination of their charming personalities. For instance, the large dog entitled Dunderhead sits quietly with paws at its side leaning forward with his tongue out and ears propped upward. His eyes appear droopy as if the lids are closing shut gaining empathy from the admiration of a friend. He waits obediently for an onlooker to approach and quickly discover all of intricate fabrics and textured surfaces that shape him. Along the backside are several hanging pouches, tool belts and backpacks that form hair-like texture while much of the snout is covered in plastic with soft cotton balls, bold fabrics and stringy materials specifically clumped upon and beneath the transparent surface. The endearing quality overwhelms his presence and demands sympathy and admiration regardless of his obviously tattered existence.
The series of dog head sculptures will be presented on pedestals at different heights to enhance each creature’s gesturing and personality. Many of their faces are animated with ears projecting out to the sides and tongues hanging with anticipation. The isolated heads removed from their bodies allow for a more intimate observation of each sorrowful expression and exaggerated face. A new feature in this body of work is the use of heavy black straps, vinyl and latex that are used to encase colorful swatches of fabrics. The subjects have a robust exterior that gives way to the soft fuzzy interiors creating a metaphor for the big hearted yet formidable creatures.
A new grouping of watercolor and ink drawings on paper will accompany the sculptures. The drawings exude the same innocence and vulnerabilities but exist as caricatures of the three dimensional dogs that relate more to Japanese Anime. Each dog conveys a distinct expression which is further enhanced by the gesturing of body parts or relationship with other dogs. There is an immediate appreciation and comfort in the playful quality of the drawings that is not instantly recognized in the rawness of the sculptures. All of the work evokes a sense of intimacy enabling the viewer to get up close and explore the materials and process while breaking free from the initial perceptions of fear, repulsion and distress.
Putnam received a BFA from the Maryland Institute, College of Art in Baltimore and an MFA at Mills College in Oakland, California. He was a recipient of a Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors Grant. Putnam recently featured two large format sculptures in the exhibition Travelers: Objects of Dream and Revelation at the Bellevue Arts Museum in the Seattle area. In 2011 the Palm Springs Art Museum acquired a major work which is currently on view in the lobby sculpture gallery. Putnam has been included in exhibitions at Lyons Weir Gallery in New York and Rena Bransten Gallery in San Francisco. His work is included in the Frederick R. Weisman collection as well as many other private collections in the US and Europe.