Self-taught sculptor Rob Toller has a love affair with rust; rusting pipes, rusting steel mesh, rusting cogs and rods and wire and cast-off sheets of metal. “Rust creates a historical record of the material as its patina changes over time,” he explains.
From such found materials, together with wood and tree bark and stone, he creates his sculptures, a recent sampling of which will be exhibited in the Gallery at Centre 64 from June 11 to July 6.
Outside his back yard studio in the converted garage of the home he shares with his wife, Heather Wattie, in Blarchmont is an eclectic collection of raw materials rescued by Rob from various sites around Kimberley. It includes rock from a local quarry, wood bark from a tree in the St. Mary River, melted pig iron dumped long ago by Cominco over the bank above Mark Creek, cog wheels from a disused Tembec mill, wire brushes from a street cleaning vehicle, and many other locally sourced materials.
Inside the converted garage studio Toller transforms these materials into unique, dynamic two- and three-dimensional sculptures which evolve as he plays with the materials to see where they will go. “It’s all about curiosity, that’s what fuels me, curiosity about what elements, textures, forms will mix,” he says.
Working by hand on an anvil, using a propane forge and electric welder, the forms he creates are only limited by the capacity of this equipment to cut, bend, and polish the materials. He also has to take into account the mass of his hanging sculptures, making them light enough to hang, and the method by which they will be attached to the hangers on the gallery walls.
Starting sculpting about 12 years ago as a recreational hobby, Toller developed his skills and artistic vision to the point where he was selling his work through a Calgary outlet. However, it wasn’t until after he and his wife moved from High River to Kimberley five years ago that he first exhibited any of his work in a public gallery. In 2011 he entered three pieces of steel sculpture in the Arts on the Edge adjudicated exhibition at Centre 64 and won a couple of major prizes as an emerging artist. He returned the next year as an established artist to carry off more top honours. The hanging committee and the jurors were wowed by his original designs and exciting combinations of materials.
His upcoming solo exhibition in the Gallery at Centre 64 will feature about 20 pieces of his recent work, both free-standing 3-dimensional sculptures and 2-dimensional hanging pieces in metal, rock, and wood. The show can be seen Tuesdays through Saturdays between 1 and 5 p.m. with a catered opening reception on Saturday, June 15, to which the public is invited. Admission is free.