Through Sunday, October 2, you can still catch Robert Frank Abplanalp’s recent body of work, “Specimens of the New Growth,” at Record Archive (33 1/3 Rockwood St.). I grabbed an evening beer with the artist recently to discuss his work, which is born of an interest in inevitable cycles, and of a fascinated horror over the diminutive, but undeniably powerful, aspects of nature. “New Growth” is innately unsettling, because of the decay from which it emerges.
The works depict “new nature inspired by nature, growing,” says Abplanalp, and are characterized by both horrific and playful vignettes. The subject matter of the paintings, drawings, and found-object sculptures is mainly fantastic imagery derived from the mind of the artist, but based on real plant life, bugs, and the like, as well as “a couple of gods, of course,” says the artist, referring to the “Slug God” and “God of the Soil” works.
This later painting presides as a sort of centerpiece of the show, he says. In this work, the calm, slightly unfocused gaze of a face emerges from the malleable earth. “It’s based on a Mayan god that I found in a book, and the painting is extremely earthly – I just imagine this god made out of mud, rising out of the soil, and all these bugs living inside of him, and of course he’s very powerful. He is the earth.”
This body of work has been in progress for a bit, says Abplanalp. “I had been working in my sketchbooks for about the last year and a half, and had been doing a lot of plant life stuff, organisms, and bugs, and thinking a lot of what’s under the rocks, or behind bark, things like that. So the drawings kind of drove the show.” He describes his creation process as animating his ideas in the truest sense: “the way I was drawing was as if the drawings were growing. If I’m drawing a plant, I’m imagining it growing as I’m drawing it.”
Also included in the show are small and large canvases that had been in progress for about three years, which “couldn’t come together until these drawings were done,” says Abplanalp. “So I concentrated on that, just drawing every day, my own nature.” Additionally, over the past 5 or 6 years, the artist has been playing around with little arrangements of found objects, “some natural, some pieces of industrial rubble, found on train tracks, in the woods, on the side of the road.” Eventually he shaped them into compositions which are also included in the exhibit.
Abplanalp’s reaction to insects is fairly normal and wise mix of interest and caution – “I’m extremely fascinated by bugs, insects, and spiders and I had this idea that I wanted to start collecting bugs, but I’m also extremely terrified of them. So I don’t know if I can actually do it, because when I get close to them, I feel like I’m going to throw up.” His work thus far has included some found cicada corpses.
As we’re talking, of course, a giant albino spider tightropes its way across the metal grate tabletop, seemingly as disturbed by us as we are by it.
You might note the playful, anthropomorphized nature projected onto the artist’s depictions of the wee beasts, while they still retain their alien, unknowable nature. “They are not like scientific drawings,” he says, “it’s a whole world of stuff going on, so the creatures tend to have personalities…they are kind of playing, interacting with each other in a human way. But they are also reflecting the horror of the unseen world – what’s happening in the dirt, the soil. It’s horrible.”
Go see it: “Specimens of the New Growth: Recent works by Robert Frank Abplanalp.” Record Archive, 33 1/3 Rockwood St. Mon-Sat 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun noon-5 p.m. recordarchive.com.