Robert is a self-taught, professional woodworker who has been making since 1985. He first worked first as a trade cabinetmaker (talking his way into a job without any formal qualifications) in order to gain knowledge and experience. By 1988 Robert was ready to venture out on his own doing commission furniture and contract wood carving. He supplemented his income by running private classes where he taught tool sharpening, furniture making and carving. In mid 1996, Robert began writing articles for the Australian Wood Review, becoming a Contributing Editor in 2005.
Robert still teaches, writes, makes the occasional furniture piece, and carves. From 1998 to 2005, his primary focus was carving wooden bowls, with these being exhibited each year in the US - mostly at SOFA Chicago (the Sculpture, Objects, and Functional Art Show). As a result, Roberts work is in collections in the Detroit Institute of Arts, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Cincinnati Museum of Fine Arts, and the Figge Museum.
The bowls are usually entirely hand carved from a single block of wood, except for some of the smaller, earlier pieces that were initially turned on a lathe and then carved. Because the bowls are both large and complex, the carving is very time consuming so Roberts output quite is small at four to six bowls per year. Robert does most of his work in two Australian woods: Toona ciliata (commonly called Australian Red Cedar) and Gmelina leichhardtii (commonly known as White Beech). Both woods carve well and they offer contrasting palettes with which to work. The cedar is a rich red-brown colour with good figure, while the beech is a pale wood with almost no figure at all.
Robert finds it difficult to say why he does this work, or why it looks as it does. The simplest, honest explanation is that Robert enjoys the work and makes what he likes. For Robert, that means carving wooden bowls that are as beautiful and as fully resolved in their form as possible. Of all the ideas that Robert has only a few ‘grab’ him strongly enough for Robert to turn them into a finished bowl, where the ideas come from, and why some appeal more than others is a mystery. Another aspect of this same mystery is why his aesthetic sense demands that the bowls look as they do. Robert thinks it is the same impulse as that which drives mathematicians, for example, to look for the most elegant solution to problems. Robert doesn’t really know except that whatever it is, it cannot be separated from who he is. Robert also knows that what makes something ‘beautiful’, involves line and form more than anything else.
All of this now places Robert in the odd position of having to look back over the body of his work to discover who he is and why he works as he does. Robert does not think of himself as an ‘artist’, or his work as ‘Art’, he is just a wood worker, trying to make stuff he likes.
Come and meet Robert Howard at Wood Dust 2018
Enrol in his Short Masterclass
Learn more about Robert and his work at roberthoward.com.au