Admittedly, Tom Corbin’s exhibition The Figure: Portrait and Symbol at the University of Mississippi Museum brought to mind a different idea then what the work actually invoked. The work is fairly traditional with figurative bronze sculptures and photorealistic portrait paintings. However, there is a complexity in the work, in its entirety, that feels like subversive action is taking place. This appears to occur through observation of the basic elements of everyday life, exploiting memories and emotions to create some idyllic and subjective reality that comes directly from the artist.
Corbin takes from his immediate surroundings to create the whimsical sculptures and paintings, a constant synthesis of past, present and future idealized. The work included is from the past five years though a development from roughly three decades of working in multiple mediums. Featured are a variety of influences whether young adults with their carefree attitudes while enjoying a beach vacation or menial household tasks and movements, these moments become models for the art. Corbin uses the family dog, his daughter or personal muse, but largely the female form, one most easily romanticized.
Small sculptures show female figures standing in a boat, balancing each other on a see-saw and mowing the lawn. The paintings included in the exhibition bring distinct detail to the work, allowing a shift between photorealistic portraits and details of objectivity to the abstracted sculptures of a subjective realm, more of the human condition that Corbin refers to. Sarah offers a cupcake in both sculptural and painted space but one is obviously based off of a truer reality.
The titles are very basic and refuse to add any guidelines or substantial value for viewer. The artist could have gone with more profound statements or philosophical titles, encouraging specific thoughts regarding each piece, however this may have taken away from a more universal experience that seems to be important for the basis of Corbin’s work. Without complex titles, the viewer is allowed to work their own personal experiences into the dialogue of the exhibition.
In The Figure: Portrait and Symbol, elements of Calder’s Circus show through, undoubtedly from a similar entwining of the artist’s personal associations with the activities and elements of daily life and the actors. Although specific examples, such as Girl On Trapeze and Horse and Rider II, allude to such an event, the interplay of the each element of the exhibition creates a narrative with a strong essence of a play or circus. With such deviation from realities, Man on Diving Board could be the opening act in the freak show before the Bronze Bunnee appears. The grotesque distortions immediately call to mind a surreal and fantastic lens that Corbin uses to shape his creative reality.
Corbin was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1954 and studied marketing at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He is owner of Corbin Bronze, a studio located in Kansas City.
By Jake Weigel
Permission for use of photos given by the University of Mississippi Museum. Taken by author.