Sculptor Robert Rohm in Providence

PROVIDENCE — Rebar was a delicate drawing tool in the hands of sculptor Robert Rohm, whose show “Down to Earth: Robert Rohm Sculpture, 1963-2013” is running through April 25 at the WaterFire Arts Center in Providence. 

At the beginning of the show are Rohm’s large pieces based on the figure — oversized hands, a shoulder, a series of arms, a torso, a leg — all forms in mid-gesture, bending, moving, cradling, reaching. 

Rohm gave each piece “skin” by covering the flexed and shaped rebar with steel mesh and then layering encaustic, a pigmented hot wax, over areas of the mesh. He also created rebar-bordered openings in each piece so that the viewer can peer inside, transforming each sculpture into vessel-like object with an interior and an exterior. 

Near the entrance, an upturned palm of a enormous hand and its fingers forms a chaise longue shape, the surface burnished with encaustic in dark umber tones — and visible through a portal is the rebar behind the steel mesh, drawing the shape and supporting the structure. 

A little further is another monumental hand, this one with its palm horizontal and fingers extending down in a waterfall-like cascade. The application of the dark teal and umber encaustic varies, creating deep opacity and solidity in the hand and upper fingers and lessening to  transparency toward the fingertips that form extra-long, super-human cylinders that flow toward the ground. 

On the wall nearby is one of Rohm’s minimalist rope reliefs, a netlike grid with one end disconnected from the nails holding it in place, causing the rope to sag and fall down the wall. Rohm created his pieces from heavy rope that he dyed with oil-based wood stain, knotted and cut. A number of his rope pieces were included in the 1969 Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art as well as several other important exhibitions and were considered an important part of the conceptual art movement of the 1960s.

Rohm was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1934 and earned a B.A. in industrial design from Pratt Institute and an M.F.A. from Cranbrook Academy of Art. He eventually settled in Charlestown, Rhode Island, and taught at University of Rhode Island. 

Wood was another industrial material and process in Rohm’s repertoire. The show includes his “table” series — interpretations and riffs on the concept of a table as workspace and even an altar— as well as a number abstract pieces that continue to explore language of vessels and the figure. 

Toward the far end of the exhibition space is Rohm’s “columns” series that highlights his skill with rebar and encaustic. Here are a number of tall slender pieces that often encase — using architecturally-shaped rebar — one or more pigmented chrysalis-like pods made from encaustic. The pieces are totemic, sometimes reverential, with a use of bright pops of color. 

Also worth seeing is the WaterFire Center space itself —  industrial-height ceilings, exposed steel beams, massive pulleys and massive windows, beautifully restored. The volume of the space was able to contain Rohm’s work and the polished concrete floors reflected light, adding to the experience of the art. 

“Down to Earth: Robert Rohm Sculpture, 1963-2013” runs through April 25 at the WaterFire Arts Center, open Wednesday – Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. The exhibit is free and the space follows Rhode Island COVID-19 protocols.

(Photos credit CT Examiner/Hewitt)

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