by Judith Taylor
In 2004, Roger Colombik installed a large-scale work on the roof top terrace of the San Angelo Museum of Fine Art. This simple, yet powerful three-dimensional piece—referred to as “the boat”—remains etched in museum goers’ minds and has become a signature form embracing Colombik’s desire to create “journeys of the imagination . . . where material and spiritual worlds converge.”
This year Colombik returned to West Texas as the 2016 featured sculptor of the West Texas Triangle consortium of art museums. SAMFA is one of the five regional museums that collaborate each year to exhibit collectively the work of a single Texas sculptor. Colombik is the 10th Texas sculptor recognized by the West Texas Triangle; Jesus Morales (1950-2015) was the first to be honored, in 2007.
Colombik’s installations on view across West Texas represent twenty years of creative exploration by the Central Texas sculptor, photographer, writer, educator and documentarian. Working with each museum, he has thoughtfully organized diverse exhibitions which in unison present a survey of his career. The artist’s own writings capture the essence of his personal artistic journey.
He waxes poetic on time and space.
Ahhh Elizabeth. What can I say?
When I am home I dream of the road.
When I am on the road I dream of home.
This picturesque moment is the backdrop of a timeless drama in which absence and presence are dueling protagonists – pulling, clawing and scheming for my attention.
As a follow-up to the 2004 installation at the San Angelo Museum of Fine Art, three large works—two Egyptian-style funerary boats and a floating “magic carpet” embellished with trailing vines—anchor a spacious visual environment. Together they reference the recurring theme of absence and presence. This journey, so to speak, “softens the flight of time as form and space interact once again in our museum setting,” muses Assistant Director Laura Romer Huckaby.
Further west in Odessa, Colombik discovered the Ellen Noel Art Museum’s beautiful sculpture garden and knew immediately it was the ideal setting for an installation of water vessels. The simplicity of the Zen-like forms in varying sizes creates a meditative environment where contrasting materials bond. This marriage of bronze and stone imbued with the sound of water suggests a spiritual world, giving insight into the artist’s contemplative nature.
This journey, so to speak, “softens the flight of time as form and space interact once again in our museum setting,” muses Assistant Director Laura Romer Huckaby.
Just down the highway at the Museum of the Southwest in Midland, another side of Colombik’s personality emerges. Here, the artist moves from “environments” to small works where vignettes and maquettes take center stage and add a bit of whimsy. It is a more intimate setting, requiring the viewer to study individual pieces in more detail to grasp both the wit and the narrative. (Note: Due to construction, a single work, Inguri River Dreams, is on view at The Old Albany Jail Museum.)
While these presentations confirm the artist’s success as a sculptor, the Grace Museum in Abilene presents a different experience, one again dominated by the concept of absence and presence. “Drifting to distant places . . . I have a need to go, to experience. I want to talk to people,” said Colombik in a recent conversation. “A chance encounter in the supermarket one evening introduced us to a grandmother, mother, and young child who spoke an unfamiliar lan-guage.” Thus, Roger and his wife Jerolyn Bahm-Colombik learned of the immigrant community in Abilene. “I knew I had to talk with them.”
Collaborating with Jerolyn—also an artist—the pair undertook a unique year-long project recording the personal stories of immigrant families. The couple had done similar projects in Armenia, Burma, Macedonia, the Balkans and other countries, but this was “the first we had done in the US,” they noted. “It was a profound learning experience. The community of over a thousand refugees resettled by the International Rescue Commission came from some of the most catastrophic zones of our lifetime—Nepal, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Bhutan, Iraq.”
“To engage with this community is to enter a realm where personal histories are linked with global crises. Our work,” says Colombik, “addresses these conflict zones and human survival. The exhibition is meant to serve as a portal into their lives and a vehicle to empower the children through visual literacy that communicates identity and inclusion.”
“Drifting to distant places . . . I have a need to go, to experience. I want to talk to people.” Colombik
Roger and Jerolyn spent months getting to know the families, recording their stories, looking “eye to eye” as Roger likes to say. They transcribed the narratives, reviewed the photographs, and selected drawings from Jerolyn’s sketch books. A book motif resonated with the artists as they set out to create a cultural exhibition that shared individual family histories. A 17-foot accordion book tells one story. Another printed in large-size type and bound in a bronze cover shares another family’s narrative.
Anchoring the gallery space is one of Colombik’s boats with a tree, suspended from the ceiling and serving as a metaphor for each family’s journey and a new life. To the right, a particularly moving section showcases a life size photograph of Fabiola, the mother of six, flanked by the words of her husband, Bikole. Speaking with a poetic cadence, he reflects on the family’s journey:
Congo before the war – it was like a paradise without money.
When I’m back in my country in my mind I see a sense of the hunger, the sadness, the misery.
When I have food here, I know there is hunger there.
I’m happy here. But if I remember my country
A sadness is in me. I remember the hunger.
This impressive project, particularly meaningful in a time of world crises and immigration fears here and abroad, is an emotionally moving and powerful experience. More Life in a Time without Boundaries, notes Judy Tedford Deaton, Chief Curator at The Grace Museum, “is both a physical and metaphysical journey of the imagination—a place where personal narratives extend toward a universal communal dialogue interwoven with personal memory and history.”
Personal journeys run throughout the exhibitions and collectively speak to Roger Colombik’s own journey of the imagination—his desire to be both here and there, to speak metaphorically and to spur others to think and engage in global dialogue.
Roger Colombik, 2016 West Texas Triangle Sculptor exhibitions are on view at: the Grace Museum in Abilene, Texas through August 13, 2016; SAMFA in San Angelo, Texas through September 4, 2016; Museum of the Southwest in Midland, Texas through September 18, 2016