It was the night before the opening of Robert Singleton’s first exhibit in twenty years when I found myself at the Lost River Trading Post breaking down boxes and replacing colorless, burnt out light bulbs that hung the outline of the front porch. Paul Yandura had enlisted me to do some odd jobs for the evening; I battled the hordes of spiders and their intricately woven dream-catchers of web. I realized then that my reward was being among the first to see the Grasshopper Gallery and the paintings that adorned the walls. The place had been transformed into an entirely different space, an almost holy place.
“This is how Van Gogh started,” I told myself, “At the bottom of the totem pole.” Of course, Van Gogh remained at the bottom of the totem pole for the entirety of his career, but that was the connection I made. I was astonished that such a place could be created in the backwoods of West Virginia, where not even a public library was present. Here was this space, etched in cloud, lit from the sun—a sacred place where admirers of art could come and bask in the creativity of one man’s mind and I had an exclusive preview to the whole thing; how privileged I am, I thought. That night, I took away something from the experience that you just can’t get surrounded by so many people, some looking at paintings, others snapping photos, and the more fortunate, having problems deciding which one would look best above their stairwells. I took away a feeling that words couldn’t possibly convey.
|(Photo courtesy of Dan Morro)|
The opening night of Robert Singleton’s exhibit at the Grasshopper Gallery was a blur of faces and clouds. I had never seen so many people in Wardensville, ever. “Okay,” I told myself, “Shake the man’s hand, tell him you admire his work, look around, and then leave.” However, something in the back of my mind gnawed at me; I had so many questions that I desperately needed answers to. “Why can’t I see any brushstrokes, Mr. Singleton?” “How come all your paintings look like there is a light built into the canvas?” I wanted to ask him, “How did you do that?” Unfortunately, he was surrounded by too many people; I didn’t want to bother this man who was very popular. So, I left.
The following night I was invited to The McMechen House for some reason—exactly what, I had no idea. “The Arts Commission is meeting here,” Dr. Terrell told me. I had never been to an event like this; everyone got dressed up, they served fancy food and wine, and you just walked around and talked about art—weird, I know. Being extremely awkward in social situations, I found myself pleasantly comfortable. People just came up to me. “And what do you do?” “Um, I’m an artist I guess, or pretending to be one,” I answered. “We’re the people without health insurance,” one of my new friends joked. It was then that I looked over and there was Robert Singleton, standing right beside me. We shook hands and I did it, I asked him if I could ask him some questions; I wanted to know if anyone had approached him about writing an article on his new exhibit. “Jean Flanagan beat you to it!” Mr. Singleton smiled. Utter defeat entered my heart as I looked at the floor, my hands in my pockets.
To my surprise, Jean Flanagan appeared then, right across from me; people were materializing out of the shadows; it was the craziest thing. “I’m all for giving young writers opportunities,” she said, smiling. It was decided then, that I would interview Mr. Singleton, at his home, the next morning. I wanted to scream.
For twenty years, Robert Singleton didn’t paint. He told me why; he attributed much of his inactivity in the studio to utter exhaustion, sadness, and caring for loved ones who took precedence over his work. “Life often takes us on side trips,” he told me, “And in this case, it took me away from art.” He sipped his tea as we discussed many things in the upper room overlooking his studio.
“It was such a mystery—something I was so passionate about was gone.”
Coming out of a twenty year hiatus had greatly affected his work, he said, as he smiled faintly, “I’ve discovered all the shades of gray between the black and white of life.”
Robert Singleton’s career as an artist has been nothing short of prolific, from his early beginnings as a student under Theresa Pollock, to the posh galleries of New York City and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, his work has brought intrigue and wonder to many.
“As a young painter, I painted for myself, for recognition, and awards. I was strongly driven to create a career. When I rediscovered my passion, the truth of the matter is, the paintings that I do now are for other people,” Singleton said about his early years, as he developed into the artist he is today.
Robert’s new exhibit, entitled simply, “Recent Works” is the culmination of two years of painting. Curated by Paul Yandura and Donald Hitchcock at their newly realized “Grasshopper Gallery,” an extension of the Lost River Trading Post in Wardensville, West Virginia, the exhibit will remain on display until the end of October. Consisting of thirteen works, the exhibit combines images, light, and sound in an overall encompassing sensory experience completely unique and unlike anything the Potomac Highlands has ever seen.
“It’s almost like a cloud drifting in front of the sun,” Singleton commented on the first painting of the series, “Veiled Aura.” “Without light, it’s dull, appearing almost gray. With added light, the colors come out in the painting, very much playing off the light.” With this exhibit, Singleton presented the question: “How would it be to change a painting with conditions of light?” Here, Robert Singleton is striving for more than just a number of paintings on the wall. The deep tones of Dan Morro’s soothing compositions and the lighting conditions give the viewer an auditory experience that is not only surreal, but ephemeral, as if he or she is in a dream.
“Your senses are definitely tricked,” Singleton added. The exhibit and experience is something that has constantly evolved, from his show at The Kennedy Center in Washington DC, to the exhibit at The Grasshopper Gallery in Wardensville; Robert Singleton has always been fluid, stating that, “Life is always in a state of flux, everything is constantly changing,” and with future shows in Huntington and Charleston, the horizon still holds an inherent luminescence that causes the pupil to contract should you gaze at it long enough.
Robert Singleton’s paintings are on display in The Grasshopper Gallery, part of The Lost River Trading Post, 295 E. Main Street, Wardensville, WV 26851. To learn more about Robert Singleton and his work, visit his website at http://www.resingleton.com/
- Ryan D. Zirk