Artist in Residence: Roy Staab

July 2, 2012 - September 26, 2012

Residency: July 1-15, 2012
Chiral Formation is currently on view in the Little Lake.

Chiral Formation in Winter, video by Roy Staab

Chiral Formation video by Roy Staab

Chiral Formation slideshow

Kat Murrell of ThirdCoast Digest interviews Roy Staab at Lynden

Roy Staab, an artist-in-residence at Lynden this summer, will unveil a new, ephemeral site-specific sculpture in the Little Lake on Sunday, July 15, 2012 as part of Coming (and Going) Attractions. The artist will be on hand to talk about his work throughout the afternoon.

Born in Milwaukee in 1941, Roy Staab received his BFA from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1969 after studying, sometimes at night, at the Layton School and the Milwaukee Institute of Technology. He spent some time in the area as a substitute teacher and art director, and singing opera, before taking off for Europe, where he spent most of the ‘70s, primarily in France—seeing the things he had studied and making work. By 1980, Roy was living in New York, where he began to venture outside the studio more regularly (he had made plucked chalk line drawings in the south of France in 1979). He raided dumpsters and accumulated the discards from sweatshops in Soho to make installations in his neighborhood near the Brooklyn Navy Yard. From there, he began to work in nature, or at least the natural areas within the city, working with the materials that were readily available on site. Roy claims that this was a practical decision—he had no car and no good way to transport materials—but he was also motivated by an interest in the ephemeral and the site-specific, by an interest in place and time.

Roy began to receive grants for this work, the first from the New York Foundation for the Arts, and invitations to create installations around the world: Japan, Finland, Italy, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, France, Korea, Taiwan, and the United States (he recently returned from a residency on the tidal shore of the Mississippi River south of New Orleans where he created a piece in the water from black willow sticks). He received more grants and awards, including a Japan/American Artist Exchange Creative Artist Fellowship, Pollack/Krasner Grant, and a Gottlieb Foundation Award. His paintings, drawings and photographs can be found in the collections of the Musée d'art moderne and Le fonds national d'art contemporain in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Milwaukee Art Museum.

According to Roy, his work was first shown locally in 1963/4 at an exhibition at the Jewish Community Center, then on the East Side. His self-portrait won third prize and was purchased. Gone from our midst for many years, Roy’s work appeared in the “Uniquely Wisconsin” show at the Milwaukee Art Museum in 1980, and eleven years later in “Sculptors on Paper” at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Art Museum.

Roy would come home to visit occasionally, and in 1991, as he traveled between New York and California making drawings on the beach with a stick and a loop of rope, you could find him (briefly) on the shores of Lake Michigan, near the Milwaukee-Shorewood border, drawing variations on the oval in the sand. Lake Michigan did not have the tides of the Atlantic or the Pacific, and Roy had to clean the beach prior to drawing, fetching water to fill and darken the lines before taking photographs.

The 1990s brought Roy’s work more frequently to Milwaukee venues, beginning in 1992 with a show at the Haggerty Museum of Art. He returned home for good in 1994, though the peripatetic nature of his work means that he continues to travel in response to invitations to make new installations: “I felt,” Roy writes, “that I could use Milwaukee as my base to go anywhere in the world to make my art and I do.” Roy had several shows in Milwaukee galleries after his return, and by 1999 was exhibiting regularly with Kent Mueller. In 1997 he made a snow work as part of MIAD’s “Different Site Installations,” curated by Mark Lawson and Jill Sebastian (last year, when there was still such a thing as snow and the pond at the Lynden Sculpture Garden could be relied upon to freeze, he made another). When he returned from Japan in 1997, where he was spending a significant amount of time at that point, he had an exhibition of photographs of the Japanese pieces at the Walker’s Point Center for the Arts.

Up to that point, most of what had been seen of Roy’s work in Milwaukee were the photographs documenting outdoor installations in other locations. In the new century, that changed, and site-specific works turned up as part of the “Art Street Windows” project on Water Street (2001). In 2002 a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board led to the creation of “Spring Ring” on the grounds of the Charles Allis Art Museum. The Third Ward Sculpture Walk gave rise to “Catalano Triangle, Artscape” in 2004; “Neptune’s Arc” in 2006; and “Historic Rhythms, Artscape” in 2007. Also in 2007, Roy made three works for Sculpture Third Ward at the invitation of Elaine Erickson. A year earlier Roy was commissioned to make “Nature Belle” for the Hank Aaron Trail, an ephemeral work that was beautifully documented by Mary Louise Schumacher in words and video (Roy still admires Mary Louise for getting up at 5 am to capture the work at daybreak). Mike Brenner invited Roy to make “Crossing” at Hotcakes in 2006, and Mayor Jeannette Bell of West Allis, in a lovely instance of civic generosity, celebrated the 100th anniversary of that city by commissioning Roy to create a work on the grounds of the West Allis City Hall (“Fountain in the Sky”).

In 2009, Staab was the subject of a retrospective at Inova at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The thought at the time (to Roy’s endless dismay) was that as he approached 70, it was time to gather up the different strands of his career and, as curator Nicholas Frank put it, “present a complete picture of the artist.” The Inova exhibition included early drawings and geometric experiments and emphasized the connection between those works on paper and the later outdoor work. Roy made two new works, one in the gallery and one outside at the Urban Ecology Center in Riverside Park. As with many of his outdoor works, Roy enlisted volunteers for the project. The communal thread in Roy’s work is an ongoing one; sometimes Roy is off by himself in nature, at other times he is working with a group to create a new space that they can collectively—and temporarily-- animate.

So Roy is now 70, and he’s still drawing on the earth, or in the sky, scratching an existence in a particularly unremunerative corner of the art field (he can’t, after all, sell those transient outdoor works, and such is Roy’s compulsion to make that he will often engage directly with the environment when there is no commission in sight—see, for instance, the snow works he makes in his backyard). He is a bit like the weeds he braids and binds, stubborn and prolific. In 2012, the Milwaukee Arts Board named Roy an Artist of the Year, honoring him not for his prickliness but for his tenacity and his ability to continually make us see the world around us, and our place in it, in a new way.

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