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In the Studio: Transforming Traditions

Robert Redfearn and Rafael Gamero deconstruct and challenge material expectations.

As we prepare for the 41st M.F.A. Thesis Exhibition on March 29, our “In the Studio” series gives readers the chance to get to know the artists behind the work. See what inspires our School of Art grad students!

Sculptor Robert Redfearn and painter Rafael Gamero challenge expectations by using traditional materials in unpredictable ways.

For Redfearn, who has a background in ceramics, the material serves as a mechanism for exploring self-identity, history, value and entropy. He incorporates found objects and text to his work, subverting material expectations and asking viewers to engage in a different way.

“With ceramics, there are age-old craft principles and histories at play,” he explains. “I like investigating that, bringing it to a contemporary status by creating nonfunctional sculptures.”

For example, Redfearn asks audiences to engage with a quote by Fluxus artist Robert Filliou, reflected in a mirror, in a moment of vanity or self-admiration. In other works, he experiments with audio and electronics, creating an illusion of being able to hear his inner thoughts; in another, he addresses ceramic’s fragility head on by pulverizing old projects to a pile of rubble.

Gamero also experiments with material, color, form and texture, and his studio buzzes with a plethora of mustard yellows, bright blues and dramatic brushstrokes. By incorporating assemblage, drawing, collage and printmaking into his paintings, he brings to life a cacophony of ideas around sexuality, evolution, animalistic nature and religious iconography.

“Whenever I make something, I think of it as a creature,” Gamero says. “When I’m in my studio, I’m like a combination of a pirate, a mad scientist and an alchemist. They’re all kind of like rebels in some way.”

Learn more about Redfern and Gamero in our Q&As below!

Robert Redfearn, Sculpture 

How would you describe your creative process?
It starts with coming up with ideas about value, whether it’s the value of an actual art object or values that we hold conceptually like morality. After coming up with those ideas, I then research artists who are dealing with similar ideas and look to history for inspiration. I try to find books that really resonate with me. I think that’s probably been the most fun aspect of graduate school because I’ve just had the time to mine through the library to find different voices that resonate with my own values.

Which artists inspire you or shape your artwork?
Michael Landy is one of the voices that resonates with me. He’s a Young British Artist who dealt a lot with value and the value of labor during his earlier career. He’s also really involved with this idea of waste — what happens to our projects when we’re done with them or our possessions when we’re no longer here. He did a series of works where he took a catalogue of all his possessions at that point and, through an elaborate installation, destroyed all of them, so he was essentially left with nothing.

Another artist that’s really impacted me in terms of thinking about objects is David Hammons. I’m really intrigued by how he can create a lot of context with simple displays of objects. Hammons explores race and identity through innocuous objects by, for one, coloring them differently. He’s done a series of flag works where he changes the color of the American flag to reflect on Black society, and he’s done a series where he transformed basketball hoops into art objects in a gallery setting. 

What do you hope viewers will take away from work?
Ultimately, I think every artist just wants people to have a conversation about the work, whether the work brings up political ideas or just more simplistic ideas about everyday life. I want people to think about what’s really valuable in our culture. In my opinion, without art we’re at a loss for thinking about value in a more metaphysical way. I hope that even a viewer who passes by for five seconds will take away some ideas about value and labor. I hope they will contemplate how the works was made, what it is and what the combination of materials are doing. 

Rafael Gamero, Painting

What ideas do you explore in your work?
A lot of it is experimentation, and I use imagery connected to sex, apes and religious iconography. I always felt a clash between these ideas — gorillas and evolution, sex and religion. There’s always a tension, and I like putting all of those things together. 

A lot of your work incorporates patterns and texture. Why is this element important?
The idea of the patterns came from tribal ideas, like body paint. There’s also always a religious part because I think of them as a kind of meditation. They’re kind of random, but there’s still repetition, like a deeply meditative part of the process when I’m working on them. 

How would you describe your aesthetic?
I call my style “unrefined raw Primitive.” I think “unrefined” is a good way to describe it because of the materials I use. I work with a lot of cardboard, with beat up edges. I like the idea of imperfection. I don’t want to make something perfect. I like finding that spot between “good” and “bad” painting. 

How has the master’s program impacted you? What’s your experience been like at UH?
I think it’s good they allow me to explore. Coming here is where I started using a lot more found materials. Before I did more drawings and paintings, and my work was more traditional — well, just a little.

The M.F.A. Thesis Exhibition opens at Blaffer Art Museum on Friday, March 29 at 6 p.m. and will be on view through Saturday, April 13.