Photo: Tina Larkin
Rene Robles’ sculptures are huge and whimsical. “I really enjoy looking at them every day when I pass by,” said Carolyn Schlam, a neighbor of Robles and an artist herself, who stopped to admire them. “They are just—powerful.”
Robles uses bronze, copper and recycled equipment in his pieces. Many are impressive-looking outdoor sculptures, like the ones from a series called “Nomadic Processions.” He began working on them as part of his thesis when he was a student in the Art Institute of Chicago. Several of the pieces are for sale now.
The series depicts a whole family unit (the matriarch, the patriarch and the siblings), made of metal. “Each of them has a meaning,” Robles said. “They represent the joys and the burdens of life.”
The sculptures are larger-than-life and deeply symbolic. Robles said that all his art has this metaphorical quality.
He also does functional pieces like mugs, cups and dishes. “I want them to be useful as well as decorative,” he said. A beautiful teapot and an abstract-looking salad dressing container can easily double as art.
Rene Robles was conceived in Zacatecas, Mexico, and born in Los Angeles. During his childhood his family made frequent trips to Mexico and he is fully bilingual now. “It was fun living between two countries,” he said. “In that sense, I had a happy childhood. But my mother died when I was 12 years old and that was hard.”
He dropped out of high school, but later went straight to a community college and got an associate degree in electronic engineering. And it was then that he discovered his true calling. “I was taking a ceramics class to fulfill a requirement and found out that I had a talent for it,” Robles said. “I realized that I didn’t want to work with electronic equipment all my life after all.”
He attended Pasadena City College and began to learn avidly about sculpture techniques. “I also taught myself how to paint,” he said. After taking several courses there he decided to get a degree in art.
He went to the Art Institute of Chicago on a scholarship. “By that time I already knew how to do lots of things but I learned much more, particularly in the Fibers Department. When I graduated in 2002, I was offered a residency by the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Museum. It was a one-year residency in a beautiful place, 200 acres of wooden area near a lake.”
This turned out to be a productive time in Robles’s life. Besides working on his own art, he was commissioned a number of pieces that are now in private homes and collections. He also taught at the Pasadena Art College where he had been a student himself a few years before.
Robles ended up in Taos after falling in love with its natural beauty. “I passed by, saw this gorgeous land, the mountains, the light…,” he said. “It was magical! Then my brother and his girlfriend bought property here and I followed suit.”
Robles has been here for 5 years now and, like many Taos neighbors, he multitasks. When he is not painting or sculpting, he works at the Taos Herb Company.
“I am an herbalist,” he said. “I help people use herbs to heal themselves and decide which supplements to use. My mother was a curandera and I watched her use herbs and natural remedies so I learned mainly from observation.”
He sees a close relationship between his two professions. “Natural remedies are good for the body and the soul,” he said. “In a way, healing with them is a form of art.”
He also does pottery out of Taos Clay, a community clay studio that offers classes, membership, workshops and residency opportunities. It has a retail gallery where many participating artists, like Robles, showcase and sell their art.
“His work is very inspiring,” said fellow artist Leah Begin, who is currently doing a residency at Taos Clay. “And Rene is a hard-working person who is always helping people. Everyone looks for him whenever they have questions. He drops whatever he is doing and tries to be of help. Besides, he knows how to fix wheels and many other things. We don’t know what we’d do without him here!”
“Taos Clay has become a very important place for me and the community of local artists,” said Robles. “Logan Wannamaker provides not just a facility to work in but also a place where creative minds can be together. Having that community has enriched my life in many ways.”
Nature inspires him, and so does the human interplay with it. “In my piece Organic/ Inorganic, which is made of bronze and copper, I depicted the interaction between man-made stuff and nature,” Robles said. “I’ve noticed that, in general, we as a society don’t try to adapt to Nature, but we force it to adapt to us. We work against it and so we get in trouble.”
Robles has also tackled feminine issues—and gotten in trouble himself because of that. “I often wonder why women choose to wear uncomfortable shoes and clothes, like those pointed-toe shoes with extremely high heels,” he said. “Beauty takes precedence over comfort and women sacrifice their bodies for the sake of vanity.”
Inspired by that idea, Robles created a piece called Metal Bikini. It looks definitely uncomfortable!
He made it when he was a student at the Fibers Department of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he was the only man. “The models who have worn it told me that it is painful,” he said. “When I showed it, some women said that, as a man, I had no right to talk about feminine issues, but for me that was a human issue. Art transcends gender barriers and I was set to prove that.”
Robles’s work can be found at Taos Clay Studio
El Prado,New Mexico87529
and at his house, 511 Camino de la Placita. His phone number is (575) 758-8044.