Artist Studio Visits by Chi Essary
David Fobes walks me through his 1920’s Spanish Revival Bungalow to its modern addition. This section of the home, with its tall, open ceilings was designed with architect James Brown in order to expand the backside of the house. Floor to ceiling windows overlook the canyon, and a stylish metal grate separates the bedroom from the living room with a flip-around TV – allowing him and his wife to watch the telly from either side. His personal creative history is evident in this play with space. He received both his B.A in Environmental Design in 1978 and his MFA in Art , 1994 from the SDSU School of Art + Design. Environmental Design is now a defunct major at SDSU, but Fobes praises the way it taught the students a thinking process that questioned the status quo. Transferring from a nuts-and-bolts architecture education at San Bernardino Valley College, he was thrilled to be asked to think in new ways by his professor and lifelong mentor Eugene Ray, whom he still meets with to this day. Adding to this unusual education, his first job out of school was working for the famous architect Ken Kellogg, the innovator of Organic Architecture known for its fantastic curves and unusual structures. Working with Kellogg immediately immersed Fobes into what he refers to as “weird and challenging building projects.”
We walk down the narrow handcrafted stairway to his studio. A staging area fitted with gallery lighting is set up on the back wall. The other walls are covered with woodworking tools, meticulously organized in a fascinating array of shapes and sizes. On his worktable, mismatched collage pieces of snakes and antique skeleton renderings are strewn about or lie half entwined in a beautiful play of color and gross anatomy. Fobes explains that he is working on a series of mythological pairs. The scraps of snakes and human bones will soon be a piece on Adam and Eve. A finished collage piece with Cain and Abel graces the back wall alongside other pieces representing unfortunate pairs from classic mythology. The work is constructed from carefully cut and seamlessly matched pieces of wallpaper that Fobes has collected from old books of wallpaper samples. As to be expected in such an organized studio, he has the pages arranged by color in flat files for ease of use. I’m curious about his reasons for being drawn to the subject of pairs. He reveals that he is an identical twin, and that over the years, he has noticed his work generally consisted of pairs. Many of his furniture pieces have a corresponding second piece or double format as well. He feels his brain is somehow subconsciously balanced on a bilateral symmetry and it naturally comes out in his creative process.
On the opposing wall is a large painting of circles in subtle blues, pinks and yellows peeking through gray. He explains that when the initial paint is wet, he drags the designs into the paint to create grooves for the next layer of gray paint to fill. Sanding off the top layer produces the beautiful soft-hued geometric patterns. After explaining his technique he removes the painting from the wall revealing a little secret. The painting is hanging on a wooden framework, which holds four long pieces of wood that he slides out and then screws into the corners of the painting. It’s a table disguised as wall decor! I enjoy this little space-saving ruse as much of his furniture design and visual art have playful treasures to discover if you explore a bit.
In his gentle yet persuasive demeanor he tells me about the classes he teaches at SDSU School of Art + Design. In one of his current Three-dimensional design courses he asked his students to build a chair that will hold their body weight using only a sheet of cardboard and tape. It can be very challenging as so many of the students have grown up on digital media and video games. These are the students who have had Art cut from their K-12 curriculum and their lack of dexterity shows it. Their sense of everyday physics is challenged and he likes to get them involved with gravity and other elementary forces of nature. He smiles mischievously: “They do lots of pilot tests; no one wants to fall on their butt in front of their peers!” I laugh, enjoying the consistency between his art and his work; he questions the status quo but with a touch of playfulness.
- Fobes with his “painting”