“Either put up or shut up. It’s your time.”
I generally don’t do commissions. But I’ve always wanted to do one, especially a public commission. It’s kind of a bucket list item for me, to do one once in my lifetime, a big outdoor commission. So I thought about [submitting a design for the Waco Sculpture Zoo], and I said, ‘Well, you know, I don’t do that type of work. I don’t do zoo-related. I don’t do animal structures. So maybe I shouldn’t.’
The deadline came close. And I said wait a minute, now this is in my backyard. Either put up or shut up. It’s your time. You’re either going to do this bucket list item or you’re not. So I got in there and said what sculpture can I make that satisfies me and satisfies their guidelines? What do they want? What’s the public gonna want? That’s a real challenge for it, to do all that. And so I came up with a design idea that I really liked. And I made the cut, and I was chosen.
It’s a giraffe in the vertical position, standing up, and he’s got his head up as if he’s feeding out of a tree, a common giraffe pose. If you look at any animal, there are different poses, you know, a giraffe with his head down drinking water, a giraffe walking, a giraffe eating.
That’s the most dynamic pose. If you just forget the subject matter, you just look at it as line in space, that was the best, most dynamic pose. I’m very pleased with how it turned out.
What I consider the most important body of work is my house series. I loosely refer to it as my house sculptures. I take found objects, and I combine them with miniature houses that I’ve made out of wood and metal and other materials.
There’s this marriage or dialogue that occurs between the found object and the house form that it’s put on. I had this antique wheelchair, kind of a dilapidated wheelchair, almost like a Depression-era wheelchair. Growing up in North Carolina, probably my biggest influence was the landscape there, the farms, all the old Depression-era houses.
When I saw that wheelchair, I immediately imagined this old Depression-era house sitting on the wheelchair, kind of falling apart. They reinforce each other. The wheelchair’s not in great shape, the house is not in great shape. Plus the house is kind of obsolete, past its prime. It’s dying. So the wheelchair, that kind of connection that potentially could be drawn, is just a great fit.
Robbie Barber is an associate professor of art at Baylor University, where he teaches sculpture and 3D design. His most recent work is an 18-foot-tall steel giraffe, part of the Waco Sculpture Zoo along the Brazos River. An international roster of artists was invited to submit ideas for the zoo, and Barber was one of 28 artists chosen to participate. Other work by Barber can be seen at the Baylor art faculty show, through March 1 at the Martin Museum of Art on campus, or at robbiebarber.com.