Assemblage art at home in Terlingua
by Shawna Graves
Robert Dampier Studio signage . ( Courtesy Photo )
An example of Rob ’ s earlier work . ( Courtesy Photo )
Husband-and-wife team Robert , who goes by Rob , and Tulisha , nicknamed Tish by Terlingua friends , collectively known as the Dampiers , brought their love of turning found objects into fine art to the Big Bend , with a recent move from Galveston to Terlingua Ranch .
Rob ’ s art career began on the Texas coast when he worked as an architectural sculptor ’ s apprentice , with University of Houston Department of Architecture Professor Greg Bruegger , on large-scale public sculptures in steel , stainless and other metals . Rob came to the table with welding skills and a grand curiosity , and soon learned the mechanics of building architectural sculpture . On the side , he tooled around with making his own work . When a prominent Houston art collector showed interest in what he made , Rob thought maybe he was on to something .
He never really considered himself an artist to begin with , but had always been a bit of a collector , beach combing , antiquing , and taking home other people ’ s discarded treasures .
“ When I started , I didn ’ t even know if I could call it art ,” Rob said . He had no formal art education .
But using his newly acquired building skills on his collection of found objects made sense , and his first sale was a confidence booster , so he decided to continue .
As a twenty-something Rob relocated from Houston to Galveston , landing in the lively historic art district called the Strand . There he met Tulisha , co-manager for Hendley Market , a hub for the artistic community . The connection was immediate for them both . “ I ’ m going to marry her ,” was his first thought . “ I thought the same thing ,” Tulisha added , though realizing those thoughts would take some time .
Even before their romance came to fruition , Tulisha was taken by Rob ’ s art and was eager to promote it . As a creative writing graduate of Naropa University in Boulder and a regular in the Texas coastal art scene , Tulisha had a trained and knowledgeable eye . Rob ’ s self-taught style fell under the umbrella of assemblage art — sculptures assembled from often disparate elements scavenged by the artist .
A couple of Rob ’ s early influences included stopmotion animators The Brothers Quay , whose films played on repeat in the background of his studio , and one of the pioneers of assemblage art , Joseph Cornell . Rob admires Cornell ’ s lifestyle , not just his art . Cornell lived a quiet life , whose inner world was expressed in intricate collages . “ He was the opposite of ( Jackson ) Pollock ( an art contemporary of Cornell ), who wanted to be a rock star . Cornell was known for the quality of his work , not the grandeur of his art lifestyle ,” Rob noted .
It would take a few years before Rob and Tulisha would kindle their romance , but once they did , they became an artistic power couple . Rob was the hermit of the two , staying home , working on art projects , or wandering beaches for castaway objects and other finds . To say he was
Continued on page 12 .
10 Cenizo Fall 2021