Editor’s note: My Buckhannon columnist Tyler Hall writes about people, places and public service in and around north-central West Virginia.
It was a late Friday afternoon, when I arrived at 48 East Main Street. The sun was still high, yet the cool breeze of autumn buffered the heat. I’d arrived at the opening of the Robby Moore art exhibit, “Variations on a Mountain Man.” The event was hosted by Art26201 and curated beautifully. Two rows of chairs sat central to the gallery and allowed for a complete view of the art.
From the moment I’d walked in, questions began to form in my head. “What exactly am I viewing? Why the strange strings of numbers? And who are these characters?” Robby Moore’s art can be called abstract expressionism, citing influence from the likes of Jackson Pollock and Helen Frankenthaler, but as with all art, the act of classifying seems a tedious one that draws away from the true essence of the work. There seemed to be a deep story that had been laid out in chronological order upon the gallery walls: a symbolic progression of art and artist.
I was drawn to stay for the discussion, hoping some questions might be answered.
As Mr. Moore began to talk about his own experience living in West Virginia the story began to unfold. Robby grew up in Beckley, West Virginia and had always been drawn to the arts. He regarded himself as a “perfectionist,” and stated that he found a form of “perfection in imperfection,” when he began painting the characters hung upon the gallery walls. While a few of the pieces were abstract versions of himself or other people in his life, Robby admitted that often the characters were merely representative of any human or animal: “Simply a lump and some limbs,” he explained.
Robby’s boiling down of the character essence made for a series of androgynous characters that seemed to break free of the male and female gaze. Robby explained his choice as “having a conversation about masculinity, and what it means to be a mountain man.” He remembered his father and grandfather with a great reverence, touting their resourcefulness through hard times and wondering how he might fit into the rugged lands of West Virginia.
The answer came in the form of mixed-media art. Looking around the gallery I noticed small details that had eluded me before. One piece titled, “The Studio,” seemed to almost replicate a viewing portal into the characters world. A piece of OSB (oriented strand board) served as the stage for the portrait. Like many of Robby’s other works, “The Studio” had strands of nonsensical numbers and shapes hidden in the recesses of the painting and featured a recurring theme of being knit together.
Another piece, known as “Beasts,” was painted upon cardboard in a palette that reminded me of desert aesthetics.
Robby admitted his resourcefulness was derived from a conservationist outlook. The average trash for one had become the canvas for Robby’s story. He said plastic bags, old newspaper, and cardboard boxes were all items he regularly tried to repurpose into art. And through the process, he was also able to find some liberation from his overly critical self, citing the style as “a metaphor for life, complete with all its imperfections.”
After Robby’s closing remarks a round of questions from the audience was answered and then the floor was opened again, allowing one to take a new look at the art surrounding them. Upon a second viewing, a new narrative was spun, and more questions provoked. I found myself walking away from the event in high spirits and curious. The art of Robby Moore had truly captured a bit of my child-like wonder. I encourage anyone to go look for themselves; the gallery is open until October 16.
And if you are interested in more events hosted by ART26201 as well as the story of Robby Moore, check out the links below:
Tyler Hall is a Buckhannon local whose enthusiastic interests include (but are not limited to) music, gaming, public service and literature.