A Chat with Summerland Artist Richard Aber

By Leslie Westbrook   |   April 16, 2020
Artist Richard Aber
Wall Work-68-19, 2019, acrylic on canvas

Contemporary artist/sculptor and thinker Richard Aber and his wife, Carol, have lived on bucolic Greenwell Road in Summerland, where he has created art diligently in his home studio on their property, for the past 41 years. His contemplative pieces have been exhibited nationally and internationally, including in several exhibitions in Italy, where the coronavirus has hit particularly hard. Aber posted a recently complete piece on his Facebook page with these sage and kind remarks:

“Just completed Wall Work-73-20, 86″x150″. Keep working in your studio and make work as if it is your last. Be well and love to all.”

I wanted to speak with him about art in the time of corona. He replied thoughtfully and provocatively.

Q. What are you working on now?

A. In my studio practice, I have been working on a series since 1976 titled “Wall Works.” An object that is mounted on the wall is neither a painting or a sculpture, but a combination of the two. I have attempted over the years to convey feelings in these works that relate to a state of being or how I perceive my consciences.

In the latest works, along with that, is a fascination with gravity and how to allude to anti-gravitational forces. The question, does gravity have a moral component? If it does, how do we structure society around that implication? Are we indeed bound by materialism? This is the defining question of our time.

How is sheltering in place and working in the studio in the time of coronavirus any different for you?

I am doing fine. I am a reclusive person anyway, so not having to go into town is even better for me. I am working on many projects and am trying to get them wrapped up, so if I get struck by this thing (COVID-19), at least things will be left in some sense of order. Will we learn to change the way we operate in the world or will we wage a battle so fierce, even beyond what we are going through today, to maintain the current status quo.

In some ways, this may not be new for you, is that correct?

Last year. I decided to limit my practice and eliminate all that I could to reduce my carbon footprint. This, as it turns out, is almost catastrophic for anyone who is in manufacturing. Aside from being dropped back into the Stone Age, you realize the true predicament we are in. Then COVID-19 hit and the whole world hits the brakes. So many feelings rush in at this moment and one becomes very conflicted.

How so? Have we overstayed our welcome on this planet?

It’s clear that we are pushing the boundaries of sustainability. How will we change the way we go forward? Is it going to be back to the old normal or do we learn something from this experience? The whole nature of society will have to come to terms with this.

We are witnessing the cleansing of the environment in just two weeks. Imagine what could be possible if we were able to change the technological paradigm towards one of doing no harm.

The powers that be clearly don’t see the need to change the world in this way, so it does give me pause and deep concern. However, things could change if it gets bad enough.

You mentioned the Club of Rome, founded in 1968 in Rome by world leaders, scientists, politicians, and the like. The organization published its prescient findings back in 1972 titled The Limits to Growth. Using computer simulations, the report suggested that economic growth could not continue indefinitely because of resource depletion. Published as a book, it sold over 30 million copies and became the best-selling book on environmentalism in history. (If you feel like looking at growth charts of something other than the COVID virus, check out the manifesto.)

We all knew about the ramifications of our materialism since the Club of Rome published its findings. We seem to be a species that is slow to learn, and fast to forget. We have been taught to live in the “moment” as a way to tame the burdens of the past and the demons of the future. But we have failed to learn that we are not the pinnacle of creation. By saying that, it does not diminish what we have achieved. We just need to apply the deep understanding that we are capable of.

Over the past decade, I know you have had exhibitions in Italy. How are your friends doing since Italy has been suffering so terribly with this global pandemic?

My wife Carol and I have made many wonderful friends there and are so concerned about their well-being. We continue to keep in touch and none of them have been affected. We also have friends who were curating shows in Los Angeles and could not return home to Naples. So far, they are doing well here in California. The Italians are so warm and loving they almost always greet you with a kiss. I hope that returns to the culture in the future.

This is true, I am half-Sicilian, and we love our hugs and kisses. I especially miss holding babies, but I’m cooking like a full bloodied Italian! You sound rather fatalistic – do you think we are doomed? And what is the importance of art in all this?

Hopefully we are not doomed. It’s wonderful to think of us as an outgrowth of cosmological conscientiousness, which we are. But what we lack as a global society is a unified world view. We need to develop a way to educate and bring differing ideologies to a point of mutual understanding about the nature of nature. The cold reality of our situation is that the Universe doesn’t take sides on who survives. It’s up for grabs. But as humans we have the ability to bring many wonderful creatures along with us rather than destroy them. All of the arts have a critical role in awakening the mind to universal truths. In fact, I view myself as a student/educator/artist. This I would hope for everyone.


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