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Robert Wood Retrospective: 40 Years in the Making

Local artist Robert Wood shows his works at the Stone Tavern

Louis DelBene, owner of the , titled the art show now on view in his Main Street bar as "Meaning is something that need not be shared."

The show is a retrospective of works by Kent artist Robert Wood.

"Our close circle consider(s) Mr. Wood to be one of our community's premier living artists ... he is deserving, and we are honored to present a retrospective show to start the fall school semester," DelBene said.

Wood has lived in Kent since the 1960s and has been active in the art scene since he stepped foot on this black squirrel soil.

If you have ever gone to an art event, lecture or performance, it's likely you've seen him examining the work or asking in-depth questions of his fellow practitioners.

He can be found on most Saturdays at the Haymaker Farmers Market manning a table covered with binders upon binders of his own art for sale — at a reasonable price. 

If, instead, you're a late-night bar enthusiast, perhaps you have seen him working, bent over a darkened table in the corner of your favorite watering hole, glancing up periodically to memorize another part of the scene before bending down to record his findings. 

In short, you probably know more of Robert Wood than you think. 

What most people don't know, however, is the full breadth of his lifetime of diligent study in the theory and production of art. 

Wood moved to Kent from his hometown of Struthers, OH, and earned his bachelor's degree in studio art in 1968. That was followed by a master's degree in painting in 1973 from .

Over the years he has won numerous awards in juried regional exhibitions in Akron and Youngstown. In 2003 he received an Ohio Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowship Grant. Most recently he was recognized in The 2nd Annual May Show at Lakeland Juried Art Exhibition for a digital print. 

Recognition aside, Wood is more interested in the cultural critique and philosophical ideas in his art than anything else. After a brief stint in the 1970s working "menial" jobs, he firmly decided to be a full-time artist and dedicate his life to these endlessly interesting topics.

When asked about this decision, he said "It's such a major concern it's hard to answer. Art is all I really wanted to do. I never wanted a real job anyway — and still don't."

The show at the Stone Tavern is so interesting because it brings together something that is much larger than any one artwork can be by itself. It accumulates artworks that have been in conversation with each other all along, a conversation unknown to everyone except Wood. With these pieces laid out on the Tavern walls we begin to see a rough sketch of Wood's outlook on life.

The extent of Wood's 40-plus-year career is so vast it would be insufficient for me to attempt a complete summary. So I will highlight just a few juicy morsels. 

The human figure has been central to Wood's artwork for many years. From paint to watercolor to marker, Wood has always been interested in drawing from the model and has, it seems, thousands upon thousands of 8 1/2-inch-by-11-inch drawings in his collection. They are "more than just studies to me," Wood said.

In one work, done in the 1980s, Wood uses markers to boldly hash out two figures that are both glaring and keen. The figure on the left peers at you over a full hand of cards while the figure on the right is cutting off his own head with a handsaw. 

In the 1990s, Wood found a new art-making medium — the Xerox machine. In the old days of the 1990s, Xerox machines printed in black and one other color. That color varied depending on the machine. The Riddle, the sole piece in the show that was made using this method, was printed on up to 15 times.

With the Xerox machine Wood is using the same process an artist would use to make a traditional print. "The artwork is built up one layer, one image, one color at a time," he said. 

Since each machine had only one color, Wood traveled from machine to machine searching for new colors to print over his work. Oftentimes he found himself meandering back and forth between Kinko's (now ) and to slowly build these pieces.

Wood was also interested in how these machines could corrupt his images. Sometimes a machine would be "out of order" and Wood just took the sign off to see what kind of partial, striated or faint image he would get. 

The prints made this way are now limited edition because that type of machine is no longer carried by either copy place. 

Wood then began to use computer files to experiment with image corruption. These large computer prints are sometimes striated and look like some sort of file error. The original image is still visible, but through a type of screwed-up technological lens.

Other times the computer prints are a collage of symbols and images that are layered upon each other, transparent, fleeting and seemingly chaotic.

Not wanting to give away all of his secrets, Wood divulged that the way he creates these works is dependent upon the file extension. Exactly what he does or which programs he uses, however, will remain a mystery.

Wood approaches technology, which many see as a pinnacle of our modern life, like a child with fingerpaints: smearing codes, disorganizing visual order, and compressing data to discover new ways to communicate.

Stone Tavern is located at 110 E. Main St. in Kent. Hours are Monday through Wednesday, 1 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.; Thursday through Saturday, 1 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.; Sunday, 6 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.

It's a show worth seeing.

David Badagnani September 02, 2011 at 08:00 AM
Thank you for this fascinating article.
Chris (Kit) Myers September 02, 2011 at 11:26 AM
Bob's work is just, well... wonderful! His skill and versatility are nothing short of amazing. Such talent! I am proud to have hanging in my livingroom a piece he did as a graduate student. Thank you, thank you, thank you, to Elaine Hullihen for calling attention to Bob and the current show at the Stone Tavern. Don't forget Art in the Park this month!
Andy Esparza September 02, 2011 at 12:34 PM
I can put my FINGER on the reason why Bob is so great!
Elaine Hullihen September 02, 2011 at 04:58 PM
Thank you! It has been my pleasure to get to know Robert's work a little more. Enjoy the show!
Gams Afoot October 06, 2013 at 04:52 PM
Robert never liked to be called "Bob". His self-annointed nick name was "Rocky". His favorite phrase spoken in perfect latin, "You come into this world naked, wet, and hungry; from then on, it gets worse!" Robert Wood, 15 year old freshman, Struthers High School

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