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How to live and work in the flow. Robert Gann blurs the line between sculpture and painting

Updated: Mar 24, 2023

Robert Gann is an American 3D artist living in Maui - Hawaii. A former professional musician, Robert relatively recently, discovered his talent as an expressionist artist. Being in the flow of intuitive creativity, the artist makes incredible 3D artworks, stunning the audience with his unique technique.

How you can realize yourself in art, organize your first exhibition and start cooperation with such a large online art broker as Artsy, you will learn about all this from an exclusive interview with a unique 3D artist and receive some valuable advice.

portrait of artist, robert gann
Robert Gann

Yuliana Arles: You began your artistic journey in 2017. In just a few years, you managed to find your own technique of execution and develop your characteristic recognizable manner in painting. What did you do until 2017, was this activity related to creativity and art?

Robert Gann: From the beginning I have known what I call the flow. As a kid I thought that being in the flow was what everybody did. I would spend an entire day throwing sticks in a river and throwing rocks at them as they floated past. Later as a teenager I started playing the drums. I would ditch school and spend the entire day flowing in the beats.

Starting in my teens I worked playing music and teaching skiing. Living in San Francisco I took up windsurfing. I had a lot of great days on the water under the Golden Gate Bridge.

It should be noted that during this period, music undoubtedly dominated my life.

My knack for art came out when I made posters to advertise shows. By that time, my wife Kristen and I had already outgrown the desire to live in the city. So, we agreed, I would go to Hawaii and check it out while Kristen stayed behind selling her art at various summer fairs.

I landed on Maui in June 1991 and never left. Kristen packed up and joined me at the end of the summer. So Kristen continued as a working artist on Maui, and I dropped into a business by accident. A friend of mine owned a window cleaning business. When the surf was up, he would call me for help because his workers were out surfing.

In 2006 his life turned upside down when the financial crisis struck. He left Maui and gave me the business. I expanded the business and in 2017 my son began the process of taking over the company and I started thinking about what comes next.

Yuliana Arles: Could you tell us what exactly contributed to the awakening of your artistic talent?

Robert Gann: It's funny that an ordinary carpet had started me down this path of being an artist. It was a new carpet in our home that had been spoiled by a stain and would need to be replaced. I decided to paint the walls before putting in new carpet.

As paint dripped off the brush and roller and splattered on the carpet, I thought to myself, “why not paint the carpet”?

I bought more paint and had a fantastic day with that carpet. Crazy as it seems, that carpet got me excited about painting. So, I started painting the interior doors. I took them off and put them on sawhorses. I began painting whatever came to mind. Taping, layering, scraping, re-taping, painting, scraping and in a short time the doors were re-hung.

Friends and visitors would get excited about what I was doing and wanted to know the story behind this madness. Over and over, they would say, “you could make a living doing this” but I was not about to start a carpet painting business.

One day I was pacing around the house and then a thought stopped me in my tracks, it was ART calling me saying, “hey over here, come over here and play with me”. I decided to answer that call.

August 2017. I turned a spare room in our home into a studio and dove into painting.

Yuliana Arles: Contemplating your art works, one cannot fail to note the incredible combination of colours and shapes. They show distinct compositional principles, while at the same time it gives the impression of spontaneity inherent in abstract expressionism. While working on a painting, are you consciously striving for a certain result, or are you completely involved in the intuitive creative process, free from the control of the mind? Can you share the specifics of the process of creating?

Robert Gann: My best work comes when my conscious thoughts take a back seat to the,”in the moment feel of the flow”. Have you ever been driving a vehicle and after arriving at your destination you cannot remember how you got there? If so, you were in the flow. It is a timeless and fantastically quiet state of mind.

When I paint, there is a high, a bit like the high of falling in love. My best work arises when I am there. Sometimes the flow evades me and if I try to think my way through a painting I usually end up with a big mess.

I have discovered that countless images lurk inside me. When I close my eyes, they will present themselves in full colour coming and going like hobos riding the rails. I have but seconds to take in each image before the next comes, and they keep coming until I tire and fall asleep. Those images are not political; they have no social, commercial or philosophical implications.

They are simply an awesome display of colour and design that never fail to entertain me.

I wonder if a 3D printer can be linked to my mind when those images are on parade?

Yuliana Arles: The multi-layered nature of your works erases in the viewer's perception a clear line between painting and sculpture. Can you tell us more about the technique you are using?

Robert Gann: With no formal training as an artist there were no rules to constrain my work. For me that turned out to be a good thing.

It was spring of 2018 in the middle of an experiment with a bucket of texture (sawdust, coffee grounds, pulverized eggshells and media from a water filter) that everything changed.

I had dripped some lines of paint on a board. Once the paint was dry, I covered it with texture and then repeated the process several times. Curious to see the result I gave the board a good shaking to remove the texture and there they were, floating layers of paint.

What is it? 3D painting? Sculptural painting? Yes, and yes. Floating Layers have become my signature technique.

From a distance the viewer can sense that something about these paintings is not like anything they have ever seen. Come closer, and you will see the layers hanging in space as they tease your eye.

As this technique evolves the basic principle remains the same. Give each layer its own space while bringing them together and giving them direction like the conductor of an orchestra.

Yuliana Arles: There is an opinion that special education gives skill, but at the same time it sets certain limits that are sometimes difficult for a professional to cross. As many great artists without special education changed their occupation, becoming an artist at the call of their hearts: Gauguin was a sailor and stockbroker, Rousseau was a customs officer, Kandinsky was a lawyer. You too at some point changed your career as a musician, giving preference to art. According to your experience, does self-study give the artist more freedom of intuitive action?

Robert Gann: School was not for me. When I was 18, I turned down a 4-year scholarship to music school. My life back then as a musician is another story. This is how it relates to my life now as an artist. My uncle was a big band drummer of the 1940’s and 50’s. He was self-taught and amazing. He taught me to feel the music and to play by intuition. True I did get schooling and learned much about technique and that was beneficial.

Technique is a good thing, but it can also get in the way of intuition and inspiration. There are great musicians who have learned to balance technique with feel, but many of the great ones had little or no training. They were all feel. Playing in the flow. Is it any different for art?

Naturally my answer is no. Choosing the path of feel is nothing to be ashamed of. When I paint out of love for art with feeling I am often pleased with what ends up on a board or canvas.

It has been three and a half years since I decided to be an artist.

I have my anxious moments and I have days when I doubt my abilities. But those anxieties and doubts quickly fade away when I am in my studio painting in the flow.

Yuliana Arles: What event was the turning point in the development of your art career? What was the most effective way of presenting your works to the audience?

Robert Gann: I live on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean far from the vibrant art scenes of the great cities like New York, London, Paris etc. The art galleries on Maui naturally cater to tourists. Not only was my artwork on the opposite end of the Maui gallery spectrum I was unable to tell others what kind of art I made because honestly, even I did not know what it was!!

Getting my work seen let alone selling my work would be a challenge. A year into my new life as an artist with no outlet for my work I had to do something to start the momentum. On Maui in the town of Lahaina, the Lahaina Art Society has a gallery. I knew the gallery and wondered if I had a chance of getting juried in as a member.

I called the gallery and discovered that the new director had a passion for abstract art and that he wanted to infuse new work into the mix. Excited and hopeful I followed through and was juried in as a new member in March 2019.

My work was now in the gallery and I slowly made some sales.

What to do next? Whole Foods opened a new store on Maui. I called to see if I could install a show of my work where their customers hang out and eat. They agreed and gave me a slot from April 1st to June 31st, 2019. While the Whole Foods show was running, I started looking for a venue to put on an exhibit after the Whole Foods exhibit closed. I found an empty building in Old Wailuku town next door to the historic Iao theater. The owners turned out to be a non-profit business incubator. I proposed to them that they let me use the building for an art exhibit and auction in exchange for a percentage of the sales from the auction. They agreed.

Next, I contacted Manao Radio, a global non-profit radio station and proposed that they advertise the show in exchange for a percentage of the sales. They agreed.

The next step was to contact artists in the Lahaina Art Society and organize the show. They would get a percentage of the sales and publicity. Seven of us hung 80 paintings. Our Breakout exhibit/auction ran for one week in July and the auction was a success.

In early 2020 I was preparing for a 3-week open studio event that involved artists across the island. Just as the event began news of COVID-19 started to break. With everything shut down for the indefinite future I gave my attention to LinkedIn, a social media business site. It was there that I met Leonides Molinar from New York, NY.

Leo knew Warhol and Basquiat; he had been in the thick of the New York art scene for decades, and he took a liking to my art. As the pandemic dragged on in the fall of 2020 Leo invited me to participate in a virtual group show in New York. The highlight of the show was the projection of the artworks at night in Union Square.

My acceptance from Leo and the artists that he represents has been very encouraging. I was deeply moved when Leo offered to represent me and included my work on the roster of artists on his Artsy platform.

Yuliana Arles: We are living in an interesting time when art is becoming more and more accessible and through the Internet, viewers can not only visit exhibitions without leaving their homes, but also acquire works of art with one click of the mouse. Can you share your experience of participating in online exhibitions? From your point of view, how does this form of presentation of artworks affects the perception of the viewer?

Robert Gann: I am excited about the future of online exhibitions. As software becomes more powerful and VR becomes more commonplace these venues will create many new opportunities for artists globally. For the viewer immersed in a Virtual Reality exhibition the experience will be amazing.

For me personally the online exhibitions have exposed my work to a wider audience. I suspect that my primary market will be online as the technology improves.

At present photos and 2D scans are the format that most online galleries utilize. These methods are not able to fully capture the 3D experience in my paintings. 3D laser scans, or video of a 3D printer replicating my work in VR offer exciting possibilities for my work in future online exhibitions.

Yuliana Arles: With the imposition of restrictions around the world, how can connoisseurs of your art acquire your work? Is delivery to Europe and other regions of the world possible?

Robert Gann: The best way to connect is by email or phone. You can also get acquainted with my work on my website or in social media.

With regard to delivery, I employ a shipping professional on Maui who packs and ships to most countries worldwide. Note: Shipping airport to airport offers the best savings, but it means picking the artwork up at the airport.

Yuliana Arles: As a self-taught artist who, thanks to your own ability to work and self-discipline, has managed to realize yourself in the field of art and develop an amazing talent, what advice can you give to novice artists?

Robert Gann: Practice self-discipline and master one thing. Self-discipline – is your best friend.

When you make art that is to be sold use only the skills that you have mastered. After you master a new skill add it into your process.

Do not dabble in multiple styles. Master one thing. Excel at that one thing.

Your reputation is everything if you want to be a professional artist. You can brand yourself as a rebel, but you better be a rebel with principles, or you will be an outcast. There are many principles to consider. Here are a few. Practice them and build a good reputation.

Be patient. Do not be pushy. Play the long game with humility, modesty and honesty.

Be excited about your art. Do not brag about your art or one up another artist.

Never talk dirt about another artist’s work. If you do not have something good to say, then say nothing.



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