It was so many years ago I have forgotten where I met Robin Gowen. However when I met her, she was obviously an artist. No one could dress that independently, except an artist … or a religious nut. The broad brimmed hat, the distinctive glasses, the full skirt, and the really bright, beautiful eyes.
But I digress. Her first group show with Sullivan Goss was in 1994 – a simple grouping of a half dozen paintings in an exhibition of local Santa Barbara talent in the only gallery we had – the De Forest Gallery, where we also served meals from our little adjacent restaurant. Then in 1996 Sullivan Goss gave the Gallery its first “one person exhibition” and at the same time Robin’s first “solo exhibition.” It was fabulous, and I found out how much the Central Coast community loved her and her bespectacled, professorial husband.
Now more than 13 years later we are offering her newest solo exhibition. I have watched her go along the path that artists travel. That first show had relatively tame, somewhat modernized landscapes that depended on a chiaroscuro treatment of the dark and light greens of the Central Coast. Most of the paintings were small and sweet.
Then along came a different Robin Gowen. Her second and third exhibits had some paintings by the Gowen who prepared the first show, but now there were introductions of scale and perspective that are often found in surreal paintings. Many of her landscapes looked like excerpts from the human body. There were only a few small canvases, but now some of her canvases were the size of billboards. One was so large it had to be exhibited on the front porch. Small was lost and sweet was nowhere to be found.
Then along came yet another Robin Gowen. This one had visited Peter Max’s pigment salesperson. Big, bright contrasting colors. Electric blues, fauvist pinks, startling juxtapositions. We had no idea how to hang the exhibit, because there were three separate artists at work. Somehow the first two Gowens were still in attendance. Her previous directions were not abandoned. She still made delicious little “green” paintings that depended on a stretched chiaroscuro scale. She had not forgotten the surreal references and the human form kept cropping up in her work. Sometimes color led the way. Sometimes not.
So here we are with her 5th solo exhibit. When Susan Bush, our Contemporary Curator, and I visited the artist’s studio we were comforted that no new Robin Gowens had arrived. The three that we had previously met kept the curatorial effort sufficiently lively. But it is evident, when we looked at the work, that each of the three visions had moved forward.
When I first met Robin, I was introduced to the community of friends and collectors that love and support her in her zealous efforts. They are a big part of every exhibit. Over the last 13 years, in addition to her five exhibits, she has written five novels, learned to play the harp, completed some cancer research and created a lovely child. It is evident that there are more than three Robin Gowens, but I am happy with the three I know.