Robyn Horn is a rare breed of artist, or at least rare in this writer’s experience. She’s passionate about her work, but equally driven to promote the work of others in her genre — sculptural wood. She is articulate, matter of fact, approachable and down to earth. Her ego is not oversized. It’s universally agreed by those who’ve met her that she is one of the nicest people on earth.
And fortunate. Horn and her husband, John, are people of wealth, though they do not advertise it either in dress or attitude. Because of her luck, Horn says, helping other artists is “something we have to do.”
In 1997, she pulled together works from more than two dozen artists for an exhibit of turned and sculpted wood at the Decorative Arts Museum downtown. Then she invited 300 collectors from across the country to Little Rock to see it. It was indeed a turning point: At her home near Pinnacle Mountain, she proposed to the group that they join to form the Collectors of Wood Art to “elevate the position of wood” in the art world. They agreed.
Three years later, an exhibit at the Arkansas Arts Center of the Horns’ own collection of contemporary craft and their book, “Living with Form,” helped further carve a place for turned and sculpted wood in galleries and private homes. The CWA meets annually at the International Expositions of Sculptural Objects and Functional Art; Horn gave a talk at SOFA’s November meeting in Chicago about new directions in wood art.
While she hopes that she is remembered as an “artist advocate,” Robyn Horn is herself an artist of the first rank. For those who don’t know that already (and those that do), Amy Howard Richmond Fine Art will host an exhibit of her work Nov. 30 at its space in the Heritage West building, 201 E. Markham. A reception begins at 5 p.m.
Horn’s sculpture is accessible but considered and inventive. She took up woodworking 20 years ago, first creating turned pieces to reach the galleries. It says something about her love for wood that she made it her medium though she didn’t particularly like the lathe. Horn likes wood because she can work by subtraction, taking cues from the characteristics and demands of the wood itself. She loves the “physicality” of her medium, its heft, textures, the fact that you can walk around it. She keeps a notebook of shapes and textures she likes and uses it to inspire her work, some of it reflective of the sandstone formations and other natural art she finds on her property. (She recalls finding a piece of wood that was nearly perfect, as sculpture, in its natural state. She made minimal changes and called it done: “The wood had spoken and I had listened.” Its name: “Just sign it.”
Horn’s style evolved as did her familiarity with her tools, which include chainsaws, die grinders, drills, chisels, cast cutters — even a cook’s torch to caramelize the top of a crème brulee. She welds her own steel plinths for her work, and is beginning to use metal in the sculpture itself. Her growing versatility with her tools allowed her to move from her first series, “geodes” of turned wood, earthbound pieces that focused on shape, texture and grain, to her current “slipping stone” series, upended pieces that she’s taken to the edge of motion.
Horn just completed an enormous sculpture she began in April on a massive chunk of redwood 10 feet tall. Spokes fly out from a tilting upright. As overwhelming in size as it is, “Hypothetical Destination” (the title was inspired by a phrase in James Taylor’s “Walking Man”) is just a small section of a nearly 60-foot-tall redwood that Horn and British sculptor David Nash had hauled to the Horn property from the Western valley in which it fell. Nash, a celebrated wood sculptor whose works are in the collection of the Tate Museum in London, created a three-piece work Horn calls “Pyramid, Sphere and Cube” on site; it’s placed in a meadow on her farm, yards from a small cabin/gallery built by John Horn. The white interior features small-scale geometrical pieces by Nash, who uses a chainsaw like a butter knife, set about windows that look out on the large work. It’s breathtaking, the combination of art and nature and gallery, and if that weren’t enough, the Little Maumelle creek runs beside it.
Some 30 pieces will be exhibited at the Richmond gallery, including “Almost Off,” a “slipping stone” piece that appears to be two pieces of wood, tilting and dyed blue-black. Like all Horn’s pieces, the wood is not actually sectioned and screwed together, but one piece sawn in a way to look like more.
Like all artists, she said, she needs “reinforcement … and when people pay money [for your work] that’s as good as it gets.” Like all artists who must work with heavy tools and a medium she sometimes needs a forklift to move around (“it’s not for wimps,” she said of wood sculpture), Horn, 53, hopes her body holds out as long as it can so she can keep working. “The body’s going and running out of time,” she said. “I’m frustrated that I didn’t start earlier.”
Better late than never. Several pieces of Horn’s work will remain in the gallery after the Tuesday night show.