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An Artist Transforms Debris into Sculptures of Home and History

Scraps of metal, signage, and wood moldings are turned into powerful compositions about the experience of home.

by Antwaun Sargent
01 February 2017, 1:45pm

David Shrobe, Tight Ship, 2016, Oil, acrylic, wood, metal, frame moldings, doorknobs, silver leaf, and mixed media, 77 x 72 x 6 inches

The things we keep at home can tell of varied experiences, symbolizing the politics of living. In David Shrobe’s Homegrown, a new exhibition at Thierry Goldberg Gallery, the artist collects debris and turns it into art. The scraps of metal, signage, paper, wood moldings and tatters Shrobe found around his family’s home in central Harlem and at other temporary residences have been transformed into assemblage sculptures and mixed-media paintings.

Homegrown involves work I created during my recent residencies at the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling, and Fountainhead Residency in Miami, as well as a few newer works created in my studio which is housed in an apartment in Harlem that my great grandfather bought for our family in 1925,” explains Shrobe to The Creators Project.  All three of the places have served as a home for the artist in different ways. The works in the exhibition are constructed from the found objects, ephemera, and remnants of the community to “communicate fragmented narratives” that map the artist’s past and present “social landscape.”

David Shrobe,Distant Relative, 2016 Acrylic and mixed media on paper in custom frame,32 x 26 inches. All images coutsey of the artist and Thierry Goldberg Gallery.

Shrobe’s Distant Relative, a portrait of a female figure composed of tattered pieces of paper, speaks to the ways that materials help the artist explore concepts of lineage. "Appropriating imagery from multiple sources, and converging a range of media with formal techniques, allows me to manipulate and explore both content and form, and speaks to my multilayered approach to constructing an image or work, which you see in works such as Tight Ship, Ethereal Plane, and Knight Shine,” explains Shrobe. Tight Ship, constructed in part from materials found in Harlem and his family home, alludes to the Great Migration, the period from 1910 to 1970 where African American families moved from the South to settle in places like Harlem. The piece also conjures the history of slavery in the Americas and the development of the African diaspora.  

David Shrobe, Ethereal Plane, 2016, Oil, graphite, wood, metal, and mixed media, 48 x 43 x 4 inches

Shrobe’s use of materials draws on a tradition of assemblage art commonly associated with David Hammons, Thornton Dial, Leonardo Drew, and the California assemblage artists John Outterbridge, Betye Saar, and Noah Purifoy. That generation of artists like Shrobe are defined by a black materiality. The significance of Purifoy’s Junk Dada, and Shrobe’s Tight Ship, is in the overlooked matter that show the way a people build, maintain, and sometimes rebuild their communities.

“I'm interested in the remnants,” explains the artist. “The leftovers; things left behind, and how through my manipulation they become in service to something else, something new that shifts and evolves their appearance and identity and might have the power to shift or evolve our perception of what we know or think we know.” He says, “My will to combine the materials is driven by a need to reclaim and piece together meaning from the histories that are inherently found in the images and objects I revise, while challenging assumptions about our nationalism and the construction of the historical narrative.”

David Shrobe, Knight Shrine, 2016, Oil, graphite, pencil, spray paint, wood, metal, and mixed media, 66 x 86 x 5 inches

Homegrown continues through February 12 at Thierry Goldberg. Click here, for more information.

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A Requiem for Thornton Dial, American Artist