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Daniel Robeski 1951 - 2002

Daniel Robeski – Life and Work

September 20 – November 1, 2003,
Fetterly Gallery, Vallejo, California,
curated by Art Hazelwood

“Art should move us on a lot of levels. It can elevate us to the idea of divinity as well as depravity. It can show the good and the bad. I think art is really bad when it is lukewarm, when it doesn’t do anything.” Daniel Robeski, June, 2002.

Daniel Robeski was a lover of culture. He believed in the communicative power of art to transform our lives for the better. He practiced this belief as an artist, as a curator and as a collector. He believed in cultivating taste and worked hard to develop taste in himself and in others. This retrospective seeks to place his art within the context of his work as a curator and promoter of culture. A broad range of Daniel Robeski’s art is on view. He worked in several media. He painted, worked in collage, printmaking, and drawing. His work is restless in its pursuit of communicating that which mattered most to him.

Daniel Robeski, Self Portrait Daniel Robeski, Self Portrait, 1993

Much of Robeski’s artwork is erotically charged and one can see that in many of the pieces shown, but one should not overlook the other important aspects to his work. His collaged work often pursues themes of religion and sexuality. Collages such as Moses and Bondage use biblical themes and associations to suggest conflicting meanings of repression and freedom. The collage Quack! which hung in a political art show at the Berkeley Art Center in 1999 is an attack on the belief in Papal infallibility and brings into focus many issues of importance to him such as, religious authority, mortality and self identity. Many of the collages seek to bring together contrasting views of manhood and sexuality and found images from popular culture were useful for his purposes.

In other media such as printmaking and painting Robeski focused more fully on themes only touched on in his collages. One of the central motifs of his work was the portrait. In painting his work ranged stylistically from the portrait of his mother, Anne Robeski, which has an expressive energy communicated through the vigor of the brush work and the angularity of the pose. Later portraits such as that of James Ing exhibit a simplified flat surface. In paintings like this there is less focus on expression and more on the personality of the individual sitter. Robeski pursued the portrait in printmaking also. One of his fondest memories was of meeting the painter Paul Cadmus of whom he did an etching portrait. However the most important sitter for Robeski’s portraits was himself. He did self portraits in every media. The key to his self absorption is brought clearly into focus in the self portrait Waiting For the Miracle to Come. For in this print a palpable sense of his own mortality is what is communicated. In the long tradition of self portraits the artist is looking into his own eyes and wondering at his approaching end. Robeski’s many portraits of friends who died of AIDS speaks to this same concept.

The same focus on mortality in his self portraits is further explored in his memento mori or dance of death pieces. Death is a theme Robeski returned to again and again in prints such as Skyline, which portrays a San Francisco skyline with a skull in the foreground. The city is suggested as the stage of the modern plague. In the painting Dance of Death and in the print Mr. Bonejangles, various symbols of chance play throughout. Cards, lightning, a conjurers hat all suggest a game, but this is a fateful game lost but once. It is striking that there is no feeling of morbidity in these works. In fact there is a playfulness that suggests a belief in the essential hopefulness of all life.

Death images, sexuality, and the self are the focus of Robeski’s work. He communicates to us the life of an artist engaged with the world and playing with humor the hand he was dealt, both in his love of life and in his clear sighted view of his own mortality. His art is left as a memento and as a testament to his life.

Daniel Robeski was active as a cultural promoter both as Executive Director of the Vallejo Community Arts Foundation and in his ten year long presidency of the California Society of Printmakers. He was born in 1951 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and attended Dominican College and the University of Wisconsin in Racine, Wisconsin.

Greek Nude Daniel Robeski, Greek Nude, linocut 1994

He received his BA degree from San Francisco State University. Among his many cultural activities he owned a gallery in San Francisco on Castro Street called The School For Scandal. He co-founded the Vallejo Artists Guild in 1988 and served on the Vallejo City Cultural Commission 1991-1993. He passed away in August of 2002.

Robeski brought into existence and robust activity the Vallejo Community Arts Foundation and the associated Fetterly Gallery. The Foundation became a central focus of the arts in Vallejo with many associated groups under its umbrella. As director Robeski planned the exhibitions for the gallery. During the previous seven years he gave opportunities to a wide range of artists. In addition to shows of artists at the height of their powers his exhibition schedule benefited young artists never showing before and older artists overlooked by time and changing fashion.

Over the last few years Robeski had slowly been building a permanent collection of works on paper for the Vallejo Community Arts Foundation. This exhibition marks the inauguration of rotating displays of works from the collection now named in his honor.

-Art Hazelwood