Do you like to see cutting-edge art in unexpected places? Well, you’re in luck, and not just because Cory Robinson just installed his “Codex Signs” at Walnut Ridge Apartments at 3347 N. Emerson Avenue.
It’s be part of Indy Art & Seek, a self-guided art tour that features more than 100 pieces of public art in many forms. You’ll find many of them in Keep Indianapolis Beautiful GreenSpaces through Indianapolis. (Many pieces have already been installed: see here for the map, and to download the free Indy Art & Seek app to your smartphone .)
But it was somewhere on the other side of the world — Canberra, Australia — that inspired his recent “Codex” series. Robinson, who is a professor in furniture design at Herron School of Art & Design, quickly noticed the abundance of modernist architecture in Australia’ capital city.
He was on a two month exchange as a visiting artist with Australia National University in the summer of 2019.
His time in the Down Under, as it turned out, proved transformational. Previously, he had been working on a body of work revolving around the types of luxury objects with which dictators surround themselves. But what he describes as the “zero sum game” politics of Australia during this period, which reminded him of American politics, dissuaded him from this work.
While he was inspired by the architecture of the city, he also looked to his artistic heroes for new inspiration. These were the same artists he learned about as a student at Herron, where he received his BFA, and at San Diego State University where he received his MFA.
“I really dug deep into the modernist era of design and making and fine art,” he said, talking about the inspiration for the “Codex Series.”
“The drawings and paintings that I was doing then, have become the foundation for the work I’m really invested in now,” he continued. “I’ve always considered myself an artist that works in the decorative arts field, whether that be furniture making, lighting, or other functional objects but I’m also starting to look at how I’m an image-maker.”
Robinson found himself going back full circle, re-engaging the interests that drove him to go to art school 25 years ago. Robinson describes himself as “an artist who just happens to make furniture.”
It is significant to Robinson he learned about furniture making in Herron’s art school environment.
“Then I went on to train with one of the country’s kind of luminaries at San Diego State University, with Wendy Mariama,” he said. She’s sort of a luminary of studio crafts. There was always this jumping out of the furniture maker category because you are expected to really define your BFA and your MFA experiences with her, with the rigor that comes with being an artist.”
Robinson, who is a member of the IUPUI Arts & Humanities Council, has been able to adjust his teaching techniques in the time of COVID-19, despite the hand-on materials focus of the furniture making program.
“I firmly believe that designers that understand materials are better designers, even though they need to know how to work in software and understand the screen, but those that know materials tend to be better designers in the long run,” he said. “That becomes super-challenging in the environment where you have to maintain six-feet safety in the shop and we have a very intense shop environment where we do training modules around assignments for safety too.”
One of the solutions is to have students create workstations at home that give students more ability to use tools in their own environment. While Robinson admitted that instruction has not always been seamless, he’s happy to be back at Herron for the fall semester.
He wants his students to be aware of current trends in furniture making, so that they can make works that fit into a particular market and make a living.
“It’s important to know what’s in the galleries, it’s important to know what you can buy as a consumer, because somewhere in the middle you as a person that’s making work and 2020 or whatever date it is you’re contemporary to that,” he said.
He also knows that not every artist can be, or wants to be, responsive to the marketplace. Especially in that case, he said, it’s really important that the artist possess a certain stickwithitness, or perseverance.
“It’s continuing to make art regardless of how hard it is,” he said. “And it’s continuing to make like types of objects that you’re really interested in that maybe don’t have a market in the city you live in and I feel like sometimes I fall into that category.”
But Robinson’s also learned to respond to the marketplace with his furniture making, and he pays attention to current trends.
“I’ve always said furniture trends are a lot like fashion trends, there’s the runway and there’s the runway stuff that happens and then a year, two, three, four years later, it’s the consumer brand that’s in Old Navy and Target and so I think right now there is sort of a definitive shift that I’m seeing,” he said.
He pays attention to shifts in the marketplace.
“In the early part of the 2000s it seemed like everyone was sort of maybe a little lost in terms of what these dominant aesthetics were, but right now it feels like some of the most dominant aesthetics are these interesting uses of material, and really kind of bold or blocked in shapes,” he said.
While at an earlier point in his career, he thought he was immune to trends, he has since adjusted his approach.
“Some of it may have to do with social media and access to other makers that we now have that, you know, we didn’t have in the 90s for example,” he said. “I also spent a lot of my career trying to make work that fit into this weird slot of being narrative and sculptural and storytelling. I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with making work that just is about design, and object, and materials.”