By Adriana Ermter
Photography Courtesy of Robinson Studio
Finding David was such a happy accident,” says Vanessa Axelrad, the associate director of Gallery 133 in Toronto. “I was in Vancouver settling my son into university, and had gone to see an artist at the Parker Street Studios. She encouraged me to go to see David’s studio, so I did. It was like putting on a glove. There was immediate comfort. We just fit.”
Axelrad is referring to Vancouver-based artist David Robinson, of course. The figurative sculptor, who works predominantly with bronze, steel, silver and concrete, is the gallery’s latest signee. A selection of his work — prodigious, halting creations ranging from three to 22 feet in height, each one featuring a bronze figure at its centre — will be on exhibit in Toronto for one year starting this May. “I felt like a kid in a candy store,” laughs Axelrad, reminiscing. “I just stood in his studio and wanted to see more and more. I could envision all of it in our gallery.”
While their initial in-studio encounter was serendipitous, Robinson has lived in Axelrad’s peripheral vision for years. A 30-year professional artist, his sculptures have been exhibited widely, from the Hooks-Epstein Galleries in Houston and Melissa Morgan Fine Art in Palm Desert to the Newzones Gallery of Calgary. Many pieces have been procured as statement art and featured in foyers of airports, museums, hotels, hospitals and wineries across Canada, while the body of his travails has been honoured with the 2017 Outstanding Alumni Award from Langara College in Vancouver and the 1993 Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Award in Montreal, to name a few.
“To thrive and survive is the win,” says Robinson. “I’m thrilled to do what I do, and now, to be an artist in Vanessa’s gallery. It’s exposure to the work and with it an expanding constituency of good folks who enjoy and talk about the work.”
His work, in all fairness, started when he was a child. Robinson sculpted handfuls of earthen clay into animals in his parents’ backyard before elevating his craft by studying fine arts at Central Technical High School in Toronto and Langara College in Vancouver. His formative years as an artist, he says, can be credited to the teachings of Joseph Caveno, a painter, printmaker and sculptor; Andy Blick, a ceramist; and sculptors Bill Clements and Leonhard Oesterle.
“In between my classes at OCAD University, I used to go up to Yorkville to see the galleries,” says Robinson, who graduated with honours from OCAD University’s Fine Arts, Sculpture Program in 1987. “It was incredible. As is Toronto; it’s a city, a landscape, a terrain that I love and have known for significant chapters of my life.”
This new chapter, soon to be revealed within Gallery 133’s contemporary and light-filled 5,000-square-foot space, includes minimalist pieces with names like Nexus, Corpus Callosum, Praxis, Dead Reckoning and Geist. Robinson describes them as “formally cool but with narrative angst,” each massive, abstract geometric form — steel pillars, cracked spheres and enormous skiffs — abundant with symbolism. Their stark environments depict the duality of human fragility and strength, magnified by the large-scale proportions and diminutive figures, balancing at their nucleus. “A lot of my work is introspective and personal and unfurls from the human condition,” affirms Robinson. “Pieces like Geist and Praxis, even Corpus Callosum are derived from the sifting of personal experience. This small figure’s plight writ large by way of a monumental scale surrounding.”
As curator, Axelrad has thoughtfully selected each work to hang within the gallery’s 17-foot-high, expansive white walls. “David’s work draws you in,” she effuses. “The elements in each sculpture are created with precision and accuracy, clearly by the hand of a seasoned sculptor. He only produces six to 12 editions of each piece, occasionally allowing a theme to lie fallow before returning or moving on. I’m so glad to get him at this stage in his career.”