It’s not unusual to find art in a gallery made from human materials, but some images are more graceful than others. The watercolors and packing-tape installations of Robert Waters are frank and intimate, with luminous simplicity; what they’re made from serves the message, and not the other way around.

Robert Waters is a young artist living and working in Toronto, Canada. Since receiving his BFA from York University in 1998, his work has been exhibited in Spain (ARCO International Art Fair in Madrid), Mexico (MACO, Mexico Arte Contemporaneo in Mexico City) and Canada (Toronto and London). All images courtesy Robert Waters and p|m Gallery; all images copyright © Robert Waters, all rights reserved.

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Take us through the first steps of the “Getting Back to Nature” series—whose urine? Why vinegar—Balsamic, no less—or motor oil?

For “Getting Back to Nature,” I wanted to explore notions of human nature and our connections to nature, as well as reiterating the fact that man is an animal. I had the images in my mind, but as is common in much of my work, I wanted to use materials that would in some way relate to or support the image. My decision to use “piss and vinegar” came from an expression that my Grandpa would use to describe young men who were full of rebellion and angst. (I believe that the expression originated in a John Steinbeck novel.) As the series is somewhat political, I thought the reference to youthful rebellion was fitting. The motor oil, of course, is to reference the highway service center and our dependency on petro-chemicals, especially as we now commonly believe we must drive to “get to” nature. The urine is mine.

That’s comforting, and I don’t mean that as a joke. You seem to have a thing for art that expires or changes over time due to its materials. How important is it to you what the art is made from rather than what it depicts? How connected are the two?

The premise and subject of my work is quite often the human body, and as such I like to use materials that reference how our bodies change over time and eventually die. In making images that will be torn down or fade away, I want to suggest a different relationship between the viewer and the artwork—one that is more experiential. Like our lives, these artworks are to be enjoyed now, and not to be taken for granted.

In terms of the connection between images and materials, I don’t know that you can ever separate the two. In my work, I hope that the images can stand on their own; however, in using atypical materials, I hope to provide new perspectives for understanding or critiquing the images.

What role is there for humor in quote-unquote serious contemporary art?

I think that there is a lot of room for humor in “serious” contemporary art, but I think that the most successful artworks move beyond humor and work in other ways. I believe that the accessibility of an artwork is quite important, and humor is a great way to connect with people.

The packing tape men from “Man At Computer” seem very connected to one another, despite their solitary existences. Does common desire bring them together?

The common ground is that the subjects are all men alone at their computers. I was interested in documenting the situation of being physically alone while being connected to other people, but I also wanted to allude to contemporary ways in which we explore sexuality. It is impossible to say what the men are doing, or with whom they are connected—but in depicting only men in various degrees of undress, I did want to suggest some sort of intimacy. I wanted to put the viewer in the position of voyeur, and in doing so place the men as the subject of objectification. The series is basically about our growing intimacy with technology.

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m working on projects for my upcoming exhibition titled “Loincloth,” which will be held at p|m gallery in Toronto this coming October. The subject in a nutshell is Jesus—his real body as opposed to his symbolic body, discrepancies between he and the church, and sexuality (or denial of sexuality) in relation to both Jesus and the church. There will be a dash of corruption and perversion, but these days that shouldn’t surprise anyone.


Rosecrans Baldwin co-founded TMN with publisher Andrew Womack in 1999. His latest book is Everything Now: Lessons From the City-State of Los Angeles. More information can be found at More by Rosecrans Baldwin