There’s no mistaking artist RobRoy Chalmers’ masterwork, The Sporozoan. Perhaps the most distinctive dimension of this ongoing project is the Sporozoan Swarm: An unconfined parade of tiny pieces torn from beautiful intaglio prints and then pinned in spiraling, organic configurations up and down gallery walls, swirling into corners and encroaching onto ceilings. The rich visual interplay of shape and shadow changes as the beholder views the piece from different angles. From large-scale Swarm installations to compact shadow-boxed Swarm Containers to his sculptural Trophies, fashioned from wood, steel wire, pigmented resin and lithe woven slices of prints, Chalmers’ work comes alive when seen in person.
A mainstay of the local art scene, particularly in his neighborhood of West Seattle, RobRoy Chalmers stands out as one of this city’s most inventive and energetic artists. With a spate of upcoming area exhibitions, a presentation at South by Southwest (SXSW) in March and exciting evolutions in his Sporozoan work, as well as a new project entitled Beacon, Chalmers is the artist to follow in 2013.
Chalmers is displaying his work at the gallery boutique of Twilight Artist Collective (4306 SW Alaska St.) through Jan. 31 as this month’s featured artist. The new owners, conceptual artist Tracy Cilona and fine art photographer Christine Heidel, have revamped the gallery space and plan to broaden its focus to incorporate more contemporary art and high-end crafts from artists throughout the Pacific Northwest. (Their own artwork is currently on display in the back gallery, just past the featured artist area.)
Kicking off the gallery’s new exhibition calendar, Chalmers offers a condensed history of his oeuvre. Bold, sinuous drawings representative of his early work, inspired by the hollows and lines of the human body, hang beside his later Swarm Containers, reincarnations of his drawings and prints torn up, arranged into mesmerizing patterns and captured in a frame. With his latest piece, “Sporozoan Swarm Container #181,” he pushes the evolution of his Swarm work to incorporate the interwoven tendrils of paper from his Trophies, injecting a burst of scarlet and adding even richer texture into his characteristic style.
On March 11, Chalmers will be discussing the creative process behind his new project, Beacon, at Austin’s famous arts and culture festival, South by Southwest (SXSW). As one of the speakers in Bike Hugger’s popular Built: Make & Tell, Magic Revealed series, the artist will unveil a powerful new direction in his visual lexicon, experimenting with the play of translucence and reflections in sculptural compositions with pigmented resins and tiny lights.
In 2013, Seattle-area art lovers have no shortage of opportunities to see RobRoy Chalmers’ artwork on display.
In April, he will put on a solo show in the back gallery space of Twilight Art Collective, as well as a joint exhibition with painter and mixed-media artist Britt Freda at the VALISE gallery (17633 Vashon Highway SW) on Vashon Island.
Chalmers will also present a solo exhibition in the Shooting Gallery at Junction custom frame shop Wallflower in November.
Originally from upstate New York, RobRoy Chalmers studied at New York City’s Pratt Institute, where he later taught. He also completed a formative residency in printmaking at Studio Camnitzer in Valdottavo, Italy, in 1991, where he produced one of the prints at the origins of The Sporozoan. Breaking down the body into components, it explored the shapes and depressions of the human form—its cavities. Early on, Chalmers produced drawings, lithographs and intaglio prints (using old etching techniques most famously practiced by German master Albrecht Dürer in the Renaissance). Eventually, however, printmaking became, as he puts it, “a means to an end.”
When he moved to Seattle from the East Coast in 2008, in the middle of the financial crisis, he was confronted with a serious practical obstacle: lack of space. He left behind a house in Massachusetts to share a cramped apartment here with his family. Out of necessity came a spark of inspiration. Working on a display to fill a blank wall for a small local boutique, he hit upon the idea of tearing up his prints into myriad tiny pieces for an installation. He could work small at home, then use the entire display space as his true canvas. The store’s owner liked his proposal, and the Sporozoan Swarm was born.
Tirelessly inventive, Chalmers has since honed, refined and redefined his myth of The Sporozoan. The project consists of five “dimensions,” starting with the Cavities (a collection of 16 intaglio prints) and the Swarm. His largest Swarm installation to date, at Seattle architecture and urban design firm Mithun in 2010, spanned two stories and stretched to roughly 1,300 feet, while his Swarm Containers confine the dynamic configurations of pinned paper shapes to modest shadow-box frames. Similarly, Swarm Habitats create a sculptural framework of wooden hexagons or boxes, daubed with shiny red resin, over which the pinned print fragments clambers and winds.
The third dimension of the project, the artist’s Sporozoan Trophies, combines the sculptural aspects of his other pieces with a different (re)use of his prints, which the artist slices and interweaves into colorful curls of recycled images.
A fourth dimension, the Sporozoan Shrines, incorporates elements of the other dimensions into large-scale, site-specific art objects.
In his Performances, the fifth dimension of his great project, Chalmers conducts a kind of impromptu art ritual in a highly visible public space—the West Seattle Junction once in 2011, then Pioneer Square last year, for instance. Unfolding and deploying a curious art “book” consisting of eight signatures with butterfly folds, Chalmers prompts interactions with passers-by. According to Chalmers, one Performance in a subway platform in Harlem prompted a teenager to approach him and exclaim, “You need a rap for that!”
RobRoy Chalmers’ fecund reimaginings of his visual Sporozoan myth serve to connect the artist not only with the spaces around him, but with the public that draws near to scrutinize his work from all sides. While his installations often achieve a monumental scale, he endeavors to produce pieces in sizes large and small, appropriate not just for galleries but also for homes. From do-it-yourself Swarm kits available on his Etsy site (complete with pins and pieces of print of varying size) to the Swarm Containers, Chalmers makes affordable, accessible art in which the original beauty of his intaglio prints, with their finely traced lines, patterns and textures, can be appreciated in infinite new constellations.
Although Chalmers keeps tabs on the boxes of pins he goes through—15 empty boxes of 500 at last tally—the current size of the Swarm is harder to determine. Purchasers of Swarm artwork, dubbed “Keepers,” could theoretically lose the tiny pieces. Much of his work also consists of temporary installs, no two alike. His art, then, is transitory, experiential and open to change.
That said, Chalmers approaches the installation process very earnestly. Preparing his pins beforehand at his studio and transporting them in boxes, he painstakingly arranges each install to harmonize with its site, taking his time and falling into a meditative state as he works. In the end, each pin has its exact place. “Sometimes people move them to see if I’ll notice,” Chalmers notes in a low voice. “I notice.”
His wanton abuse of his prints separates him somewhat from more traditional printmakers, but it also frees him to experiment and evolve unhampered by convention. “Creating your own vision is hard,” explains Chalmers. “Artists shouldn’t let themselves be influenced in the development of their own distinctive style.”
To learn more, visit his website, www.robroychalmers.com.