You know it’s going to be a very special evening when you’re greeted at the door by a beckoning Venus di Milo – in lead ribbons of bondage no less. She’s a beauty.
Once you walk past di Milo, the exhibit by Robert Dente at Gallery on the Green will draw you in further - with its tar covered figure trying to row a boat through a river of tragic circumstances after the Exxon Valdez spill; or a much more playful afternoon in Milford, CT during WWII, with Dente’s mother and her gal pals, in another row boat christened BOBO.
AT: Clearly your mother was a key influence in your life.
RD: Her name was Arcangela Tartaglia; the 'Arch Angel.’ During WWII, she was a Rosie the Riveter; making parachutes, tires and boots in, “the rubber shop,” in Waterbury, which eventually became Uniroyal.
I learned the world through the eyes of my mother; her sense of beauty, which always had a little sadness to it. Her pain vented the way to a lot of compassion.
Andy Warhol was another influence. This image of my mother and her friends in the BOBO row boat, which I first remember seeing when I was three or four years old, is silk screen on canvas; Warhol used this technique.
AT: There is another wonderful image, as you enter the Gallery. It’s of a woman on a boardwalk at the beach. What’s her story?
RD: This is Jenny Doyan. She married a Navy cook, during WWII. The photo speaks to the eternal nature of earth, sky and water versus the temporal and evaporative elements of the boardwalk, which is no longer there, and Jenny who is also now gone. So, the photograph does its job; true to the documentary process of photo journalism, the photograph documents life in one snap shot. We’re all transient.
Warhol liked symbols; documenting time on earth. I was acutely aware of this as someone who takes things in visually; the art of transience; the passage of time.
AT: So, you majored in photography not painting at the Hartford Art School?
RD: And I minored in the philosophy of religion. I didn’t like the painting teachers so I majored in photography. I found that the photography teachers were more intellectually curious. And, they encouraged that in me.
AT: You have created drawings, water colors and monotypes for this exhibition. Lots of different stories.
RD: When I draw, I have to think about it; plan it out. The monotypes, on the other hand, are very intimate. They’re about expressing myself directly, spontaneously and quickly.
I wanted to be a poet who paints. I mistrust words. Words can be ambiguous. I think of myself as an illusionistic entertainer. I deal in visual illusion; in idetic, photographic memories.
AT: You traveled the world for the State Department?
RD: I traveled to Brazil, Mexico and Italy as part of an exchange program representing American art and culture. I put shows together and presented talks about being an American artist.
AT: So, what about these mummies? They seem to have a life to them.
RD: In Mexico, I was so impressed with how the mummies were created and displayed. There’s a mystery to them.
AT: What about the figure in the row boat, covered in tar?
RD: It’s a carved boat, cast in resin with nylon ropes, covered in a river of tar. It’s about lethargy. I was trying to jujitsu my anger and resentment over what happened with the Exxon Valdez. I was also dealing with the loss of my parents. This piece is a visual journal of my life and how I dealt with the dark side of all that was happening at the time; like Dante’s Divine Comedy.
AT: Your paintings of the abandoned farms and seaside cottages show an architect’s influence on the natural environment.
RD: In Italy, my favorite architecture was the medieval, Romanesque; its simplicity and basic style. I was fixated with towers and castles. The atmosphere made the form even more mysterious; especially the abandoned farmhouses in Sicily.
I started looking for the meaning of abandoned earth and the need to find things that are local and real.
Here’s the Deal
The Maxwell Shepherd Invitational Exhibition will present a talk with the artist, Robert Dente, on Saturday, April 23, 2011 at 5:00 p.m. at Gallery on the Green. A reception with the artist will follow the talk.
Gallery on the Green, 5 Canton Green Rd; 860-693-4102: www.galleryonthegreen.org.