In late June, West Dean College was pleased to welcome Bob Ebendorf and Aleta Braun as collaborating Artists-in-Residence. From a base in the College Print Room, close to the Visual Arts department, Bob and Aleta spent time developing a series of works on paper, incorporating drawing, painting, collage, found materials and text.
Born in Kansas, Bob Ebendorf has been an active teacher and practitioner for over forty years. Awarded a Fulbright grant to study in Norway in the early 60s, he went on to gain his Master’s Degree from the University of Kansas. He is a founding member of Society of North American Goldsmiths and most recently was the recipient of the North Carolina Award, the State’s highest civilian honour. For over 40 years he has been an active educator and practitioner and is currently Belk Distinguished Professor in the Arts at East Carolina University College of Fine Arts and Communication in Greenville, North Carolina.
As an accomplished and innovative metalsmith and jewelery designer, Bob’s practice has incorporated a variety of mixed and often incongruous media, often based on what can be ‘rescued’ from the relative obscurity of junk markets, landfills or everyday debris: scraps of paper, plastic, metal, glass, wood, toys, tintype, shards, shells, etc. Bob’s playful reinvention of these artefacts – which in themselves possess powerful, if partial, histories both personal and public – transforms their power as discarded mementoes into a more improvisatory and expressive form of souvenir: not as something retroactive or fixed, but as suggestive of what is to come, what can be recombined and made new.
Incorporating these found objects and materials with great skill, Bob effectively challenges assumptions about the nature of personal adornment and decoration, as well as radically shifting the parameters of the field of jewelery-making, particularly in relation to objects common to everyday life. His various assemblages – which recall the works of Joseph Cornell, Kurt Schwitters and Jean Arp – have been collected by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Smithsonian Institute and the Victoria & Albert Museum.
Aleta is a mixed media artist whose work is based in drawing, painting and collage, often focused on the sustained use of sketchbooks and journals. Her work explores the ostensibly simple language of geometric shapes and elemental forms – circles, dots, lines – as well as the layering of colour transparencies and delicate textures. With Aleta’s passion for hand skills and mark-making, the collaborative residency in West Dean extends a 15-year tradition of personally exchanging works on paper (‘greetings cards’, books, leaflets, missives, etc.), an activity that itself has vibrant associations with the forms of mail art that emerged from Fluxus in the late 1950s, as well as the rich history of artists’ publications.
Throughout the time spent at West Dean, the evidence of such intimate personal exchanges between collaborators, no doubt combining both private and public languages, will create a body of work that embodies an open-ended dialogue between two distinct yet complimentary artistic sensibilities.
Statement from Aleta Braun and Bob Ebendorf:
Our proposal for coming to West Dean was to be offered an opportunity to work in the collaborative flow of creativity as a couple. At the start of our seven day residency, we set up ground rules and boundaries finding that by creating a specific structure we are led into daily engagement in rich conversation about the work being done as well as the to and fro conversation which is taking place in the work itself. We are two creative people who sometimes have different ideas in reference to design, composition, and material usage. Our choice is to work in the format of collage, drawing, and painting – being inspired by both the environment and found materials at West Dean. The balancing act of in-depth resolution of our differences about design, mark making and formalization of concept has become part of the daily ritual. Argument, meltdowns and time outs we have experienced. We both are strong headed and at times can be control freaks about the way something should be done. Through discussion, we come to connectivity, resolution, and flow. This is a rich learning experience for us as artists and as a couple. We have accomplished a number of what we feel are fine examples of our creativity working together. There is joy as we close the studio and head back to our room. Walking in the dark holding hands, sometimes being bathed by the beauty of the moon, we close the day with warm bath and sleep.
As the week progresses, we step back to see the evolution from our early busy pieces into a clearer voice, using fewer marks, breaking new ground to say what we want to express. Perhaps it is the magic of West Dean at work: transforming fast paced, cluttered people who arrive with the baggage of everyday life into a grounded and more in-tune version of themselves.
Working side by side for hours in dialogue, pushing and pulling on the work we have been doing collaboratively is a treasure. In our “normal” life in Greenville, NC, USA, we are passionate about the work we do in our individual studios, but it is uncommon for us to have full days dancing together in a shared world of ideas, in discussion, and in the making. We will be forever thankful for this gift of a collaborative residency. Another wonderful part of our experience is the rich exchange with so many passionate people who are here: artisans of many kinds as well as the men and women who attend to all the nourishing aspects of West Dean. We are grateful!