On Robert Taite
[Written to accompany Robert Taite: Acrow Pillow Prop, an exhibition at Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art in Kelowna, BC, September 16 - October 30, 2016]
This is one of my most significant childhood memories: in a moment of inspiration, I saw my bedroom dresser as a stage. Democratically, I gathered every personal effect within my vision and piled it onto the painted wood surface. I stacked and sidled items up to each other, one form and colour nestling into the next, the composition doubling and extending in the long mirror that sat between the dresser and the wall. When there was no more to be considered, I went into my mother’s bathroom, opened the cabinet beneath her sink and removed a near-full container of baby powder and, looking upon what I had assembled, emptied its entire contents onto my bedroom dresser. It drifted down lazily like snow, settling over every object, mounding and filling crevices, making mountains and valleys where there were hairbrushes, cassette tapes and stuffed toys. The real world became otherworldly because it was cloaked in something my mother bought at a drug store.
Robert Taite once told me that he wanted his work to be so formal that it might create occasions for serendipity. His capacity for conjuring surprise comes from a very particular acuity to surfaces and places. Taite is a proctor of common things: lumber offcuts, decorator’s mis-tints, retired bedding, elastic bands (and the space between them). Out of what exists—and with one eye toward its context—he entertains relationships, allowing colour to find its presence in shape and shape to emerge out of the way it generally wants to be. Like an 8 year old who know how to make his rec room a kingdom on an uncharacteristically rainy July weekend, Robert Taite creates wonder from the most formalist of form. His most recent works possess an air of recognition. They are lines and blocks that I know, both from participation in a game that was living when I was a child and working now that I call it art. This play, between the vast potential of what a simple thing can be and the earnestness of its construction articulates the tenuous gap between childhood and adulthood. Taite’s work fills this gap.
In the epic tome of his childhood person, Karl Ove Knausgård writes that
“Understanding the world requires you to keep a certain distance from it. Things that are too small to see with the naked eye, such as molecules and atoms, we magnify. Things that are too large, such as cloud formations, river deltas, constellations, we reduce. At length, we bring it within the scope of our senses and we stabilize it with fixer. When it has been fixed we call it knowledge.” (1)
The abstraction Robert Taite is concerned with in Acrow Pillow Prop is neither magnification nor reduction solely but rather the transitions in between. His formal language plays with the zoom, the space between opening and closing your eyes where stars can sometimes be seen on the inside of your eyelids if you rub them just so. It comes from and describes a peculiar kind of knowledge rooted in the very thingness of things and also in the way they float about in the world. It is a game in which things are just as they are and simultaneously everything they could ever become. This is what Taite is concerned with fixing. That it could be possible from dumb matter and the coloured skins Taite envelopes it in defies adult logic, but I sense that this is the serendipity he spoke of. To be surprised in an old brain is hard, but I would argue that to be surprised by formal abstraction is harder.
(1) Karl Ove Knausgård and Don Bartlett. My Struggle: Volume 1 (London: Harvill Secker, 2012), e-book.