Robert Larson. Untitled (Marlboro), 1999. Discarded Marlboro packaging on linen, 165cm x 208cm / 65″ x 82″
Larson’s interdisciplinary practice embraces immersive, experiential relationships with material and landscape coupled with studio production. Larson equates the act of moving the body through the landscape and the act of bending to pick things up as a kind of in-situ action painting. The gestures of walking, seeking, finding, bending, picking up, toting, transporting, gathering, sorting, placing, cutting, arranging, and affixing are repeated for hours, days and weeks on end, akin to ritualistic dedication. Larson walks miles and miles of streets to gather found materials, a practice he has maintained for over twenty years—a journey of epic proportions, resulting in works of iconic and poetic significance.
In his studio, the gathered objects are sorted by category and brands into large stockpiles of content, which originally was worthless trash that now gains power in its excess and archive. The once pristine cigarette packaging take on their own personality and historical record by being discarded, stepped on, crumpled or torn; this history of the objects is embedded in Larson’s works. The items that Larson collects are often gleaned from impoverished or industrial neighborhoods, emphasizing concepts of toil and labor for the sake of small pleasures, albeit potentially deadly ones. The result is richly textured, visually meticulous and venerable works that hint at sacred geometry, further emphasizing the vicious yet bittersweet cycle where commodification meets addiction.
Larson’s scavenging, gathering and re-appropriating process is true to the found object aesthetic, following in the path of historical predecessors such as Ed Kienholz, Kurt Schwitters, and Robert Rauschenberg. His approach to art-making remarks upon socio-political concerns, as well as psychogeography and searching for the American Dream. Similar to Mark Bradford, Larson’s dedication to material becomes a mapping of experience that reconfigures geography as objects of memory, hope and desire.