Artists tend to have some adventurer in them. It takes an itinerant mind to do what they do; a restlessness, a wanderlust, a thirst for knowledge that is supremely difficult to satiate. Saugerties artist Robert George is no different. Having arrived in Saugerties in May of 2012 after five years in Mexico with his wife, Chloe, George set up shop on Main Street. The move was prompted by the birth of his son, Julian, and the family’s desire for cooler climes. His studio, at the back end of his house, is small but jam-packed with his work – studies of the human figure, rendered in clay and bronze, almost all of them locked in some kind of peculiar, unexpected movement.
His work will be on display at Marleau Gallery on Partition Street beginning Friday, Sept. 7 and running for several months.
George was born in North Carolina and educated at UNC. He received his master’s from Columbia; his father was an architect and the man behind the North Carolina state zoo. His interest in art goes back to when he was a child. “My parents were partiers,” says George, and while the party went on upstairs, he and his cohorts would play on a clay table. “We made houses and little furniture, and I made little butlers and maids, and fancy brass pieces,” George says. “I’ve had sculpture on my mind since I was a little kid.”
George cites Auguste Rodin and Marino Marini as influences, and defines himself as an expressionist. “I love working with the human form. Sometimes I use a model, sometimes I start without a model, and I focus on the composition of the piece. Like the movement; the little twist.” He does a good job. He works mostly with nudes rendered in clay. George himself admits that he’s “far from a realist.” His work — flowing, sinuous, and expertly composed, has a sense of potential energy and imminent motion; a hand that’s about to be drifted in front of the sculpture’s body, a faint nod of the head. “I try to steal a tic from the model. A little movement, some personality,” says George. “It’s gradual and it’s always changing. Nothing’s set in stone. Well, sometimes it’s set in clay, maybe bronze.”
Though most of his pieces are clay, there are a few bronzes in the studio. George traces his fascination with bronze to his days as a student in Greece. “I think the thing about bronze is that it’ll stay forever,” says George. “You look over history and you see bronze pieces from the ancient Greeks. When I was 20, I was studying anthropology and my professor asked, ‘Are there any artists in the class that would want to go to Greece?’ So I raised my hand and they flew me into Greece with another student. Our job was to go out every morning and swim to this beautiful island.” There George developed an appreciation for ancient art and architecture, working to uncover Minoan, pre-Roman. “I went to every museum in Athens and saw these beautiful bronzes. In one Athens museum there was this huge brass horse. It’s been weathered – think it was under the water for a long time – but there is this little child riding it… it was magnificent. And this is from days before time,” he says.
He’s conscious of his art as a body of work, changing over time. “I used to have a professor who had this saying, ‘Not all artwork is meant for bronze.’ I want to keep growing. The thing about art is that it’s really easy to get locked in and rely on what you know. I want to get bigger with my work.”
He means that last part conceptually and literally. George’s sculptures are small in stature because the kiln he has can only hold pieces up to 28 inches tall. He wants to create larger, more grandiose pieces and move into mold-making to complement those sculptures, an art form he studied for fifteen years. “I want to see if I can carry the same beauty from my small pieces into my larger pieces. It will change my work a lot and take it to a different place,” says George.
It’s been a strange journey that brought Robert George to Saugerties. Before temporarily settling in Merida, the capital of Mexico’s Yucatan, George spent time in the East Village and traveled as a student, moving across Europe. And now his wandering soul has brought him to upstate New York – decidedly removed from the heat of Mexico, the rush of the big city, and blue Cretan waters. It’s taking some time to adjust.
“It took me awhile, honestly, being in the East Village for 23 years, where no one gives a crap and minds their own business, and then down in Merida where I had 960 square meters, a studio, and a 10-foot rock wall around my whole place – and now I’ve got a neighbor 15 feet away.” He’s getting use to it, though. “It’s beautiful here [in Saugerties], it smells good,” says George. “I want to build a deck right off of my bedroom so I can wake up, smoke a cigarette, and look at those mountains and work.”
Robert George is in the right place. Saugerties has played the part before: a quiet but not remote place to take stock of one’s life; the perfect place to create with fewer distractions without risking cabin fever. Between his experience, his study, and his noticeable focus on technique and miniscule movement, George could be Saugerties’ next great sculptor. We’ll just have to wait for his work to grow a little bigger than three feet tall.