Briefly describe the work you do.
My studio practice is divided between sculpture and intervention/social practice based projects. Working primarily in metal (cast and fabricated) the sculptures are often narrative, conveying fragments of a story that swims between fictions and truths. My wife and creative partner, Jerolyn Bahm-Colombik collaborates with me on large public works and sculpture commissions. Social documentary studies greatly inform my cultural works as I immerse myself in a community for a period of time to observe, listen and record. The output of these endeavors range from installations, large format photography to publications. These projects are collaborative based, working closely with artists in the community.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
Growing up in Chicago there was a common refrain in regards to where people could meet up in the city – “yeh, I’ll meet you at the Picasso”. The Chicago Picasso as well as the many large-scale sculptures throughout the city had a profound influence on my interest in sculpture. During the early years of my education the sculpture collective CONSTRUCT had their office/gallery in Chicago and the first exhibitions of monumental sculpture at Navy Pier (Mile of Sculpture) left an indelible imprint upon my imagination.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
My social practice work relies on the notion that the street is my studio. Projects in Republic of Georgia, Armenia, Romania, Ecuador and Burma are born from the kindness of strangers who take us into their lives to share their stories, dreams and hardships. It always begins with intensive research prior to arrival, then letting go of everything and simply walking through neighborhoods and learning of life. Patience and persistence are my most important tools.
My studio in Wimberley, TX is a palace of creative refuge, a large metal building with everything I need to walk in the door and play, explore and struggle. I have an assistant when necessary but I prefer to be alone or working only with Jerolyn on the larger pieces.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
The thought of listening to a Muslim healer discuss his practice and life in Yangon would have been inconceivable to me as a young sculpture student, immersed in object making and working in a foundry. I find that navigating between very divergent artistic practices is a fabulous way to stay relevant and aware of the possibilities for creative exploration. The sculpture studio always looks fresher when returning from a journey and the journeys always provide new resources and influences for the sculpture work as well as the social practice projects. I never imagined myself working collaboratively when I was younger. Now I relish the experiences with artists around the world and the projects with Jerolyn.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
The older I am, the early I begin. Mornings are essential for clarity and high energy, whether that means physical production or reading/writing. The days of staying up to 3am are long past me. Most of my studio injuries occur later in the day when I should have hung up the gear and walked out.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
The last five years have been a whirlwind of fabulous opportunities to develop my interests and skills in public works, both large-scale sculptures and temporary installations of photo based cultural projects. What remains the same is a great passion for walking through the door to the studio, looking around with a big smile and jumping in. Working in metal continues to challenge as skill development for new interests takes hold. What remains the same is the pure joy of “making”.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
I am very fortunate to have received excellent instruction and mentorship from sculptors in my education. First, my high school had a full art program with professional artists teaching classes. Elliot Balter was tough and influential and sparked my interests. Roger Blakely at University of Illinois treated his students as family and always made time to talk. My love for the foundry comes from his influence as well as my grad mentor, Thomas Walsh. Most importantly, Thomas Walsh instilled in me a great passion for reading and travel. The writings of Borges, Rilke, Tolstoy and Dickens continue to inspire.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
Directing an NGO in a developing country that is transitioning towards a civil society. My experiences in these types of environments continue to be profound and the young generations of artists I have worked with provide me with new ways of seeing and understanding the world. Also, children with so few resources exude maturity well beyond their years and have much to teach the adults. I am constantly humbled in their presence.
Roger Colombik lives in the Texas Hill Country with his wife and artistic collaborator Jerolyn. Keeping them company are their two terriers and a never ending parade of wildlife. His sculptural works create visual environments that soften the flight of time for the viewer. Jerolyn and Roger have completed several public commissions in Texas including works for The Miller Library in Beaumont, Austin’s 2nd St. Redevelopment Project and the San Marcos Embassy Suites/Convention Center. Roger has spent several years experiencing the post-Soviet/post Berlin Wall hangover that has destabilized many countries in their attempts to become civil societies. Traditions and cultural heritage often collide head-on with westernization and government malfeasance. Major public projects have been undertaken in Armenia, Republic of Georgia and Romania with the goal of promoting community dialogue on issues of emigration, education and communal memory.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.