Robert Ecker taught in the art departments at Washington State University 1965 to 1972 and the University of Colorado 1972 until 2001. He has had more than thirty solo exhibitions in the U.S. and abroad and has been included in more than 150 national and international group exhibitions where he received 30 prizes and purchase awards, including the President's Purchase Award at the Society of American Graphic Artists 58th National Exhibition in New York City and the Award of Merit at the First International Small Print Exhibit in Seoul, Korea. He was also awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Artists' Fellowship, a D. H. Lawrence Fellowship from the University of New Mexico, the Colorado Council on the Arts Recognition Award in Painting, a Centrum Foundation Residency and Fellowship and two Faculty Fellowships from C.U. His work is in numerous public and private collections including the National Collection (Smithsonian), Yellowstone Art Center, The Printmaking Workshop, New York City, Boston Printmakers, Benziger Family Winery, Denver Art Museum, Pratt Graphics Center, Library of Congress (Pennell Fund Purchase) and the Crocker Museum. He and Jean Beard Ecker have been married since 1958 and have four children and nine grandchildren.
"Our awareness is all that is alive and maybe sacred in any of us. Everything else about us is dead machinery." K. Vonnegut
I agree with that statement. I would add the words perceptions and consciousness to it. Our consciousness of who we are and what life is about is altogether dependent on our individual awareness and perceptions, of how things look to us alone. With some people those perceptions change, with others they don't.
I believe there are three primary sources for our awareness-perceptions-consciousness. The first comes from our inborn genetic and biological predispositions, things such as intelligence, looks, health, natural talents and weaknesses, personality, etc. Those seem to be the basis of who we are. They are often eclipsed, however, by the sense of who we are that comes from our culture and society. From infancy we are taught social rules that societies around the world have found useful for the survival of individuals and society itself. Certainly, individuals are often sacrificed for the betterment of the group and mostly we accept that, too. Artists can be a cranky lot when it comes to putting social needs ahead of their own perceptions of what those needs might accomplish. It leads to a lot of political art. I don't like political art, I don't like politics at all - it is mostly about opinions not facts, as I see it.
The third source of awareness in my lexicon I will call Cosmic Consciousness. It is just a convenient name. We don't know really where it comes from or even what it is. It is abstract, not material. We do know that within the human mind there exists an ability to figure out enough about how the universe works that we can send machines to distant planets and take images of galaxies so far away as to boggle the mind. Our minds are somehow tied to the fact that the universe, parts of it for sure, perhaps all of it eventually, is organized and understandable to us. Science is a big part of Cosmic Consciousness, but so is Spirituality and Religion. My current perceptions of the latter suggests to me that spirituality is mostly an individual thing within each of us (even atheists) while religion is again, mostly social and political. None of these are intrinsically bad, but humans tend to get aggressive and possessive when it comes to ideas. Ideas are not material either, but I think Plato was right in saying that they are more real to us than things themselves. We die for them. We must. Religion and patriotism are two examples of how much ideas determine self and human history.
To me, art plays into this because it is not really understandable, utilitarian or predictable in ways everything else seems to be. No one is certain what it is, yet everyone has their own perceptions, awareness, consciousness of what art is. That, I think, is it's beauty. It is a mystery, an enigma, something early humans apparently naturally gravitated to for no other reason than the fact that it was not understandable, utilitarian or predictable. It was simply needed. It identifies whole cultures. I believe that without that we and our universe would lack an essential ingredient -- don't ask me what it is.
HOLLYWOOD TO BOULDER:
The picture on the left shows my mother and younger brother John in the bay window on the second floor of the now demolished Arcade Theater Building in Waynesboro PA. The picture to the right is me inside the same window taken a year or so earlier. The Bing Crosby movie advertised on the marquee helped date my picture. It was taken in the summer of 1950 by the 14 year old me with my new Ansco camera. During my junior and senior high school years we lived in that apartment which was owned by Warner Bros. It used to give me a small thrill to take the rent check my mother would make out to the WB Corp. down a rickety elevator smelling of rancid grease from the Unique Restaurant, to the office in the brightly lit and mirrored lobby, then sneak into the dark theater in time to see the WB shield pop up on the screen, raucously announcing a Roadrunner, Porky Pig or Bugs Bunny cartoon -- da dada da da da da!
(A significant portion of my puberty was passed in that theater and the one down on the square called the Strand that showed cowboys, The Dead End Kids, Laurel and Hardy, super-hero serials and an occasional pot-boiled propaganda piece like, Marijuana: Weed With Roots in Hell! The consciousness of myself that I took from those theaters is still, at 81, more a part of who I am as anything I can see in a mirror.)
When I retired from the CU Art Department in 2001 a retrospective of my work was shown at Regis University in Denver and at Washington State University in Pullman. I was asked what I would like to title the show and to write a statement. I decided to call it HOLLYWOOD TO BOULDER. A bit misleading in a literal sense, but true enough of my influences, I thought. Below is the statement I wrote which I think accurately reflects most of what art means to me.
The title for this show is both attention seeking embroidery and figuratively true. I belong to a trade that makes pictures and puts them before the public. In other words a trade that is certain one way or another to be paradoxical and provocative. Ego is a precondition for the calling so I seldom pass up a chance to showoff my work or say something prickly about art. The cardinal paradox being that I'm certain the most eloquent feature of a visual work of art is its silence. Last fall l joined a small band of pilgrims trekking to the site of some ancient pictographs that lie in an out of the way corner of the Anza Borrago Desert. There was nothing useful to be said about the images when we found them. Anyone could see they were ineffable. Visible shadows of fundamental human spirit. Such efforts to connect with the human spirit through images from other times and cultures belongs with the more affirmative and attractive of human traits, I think. At its core the art transaction is that simple: An artist makes an image to reflect his or her inward or outward journey trusting that others will find the result worthy of an effort to connect. Among the shadows of my outward journey observable in the images here are the years of my youth in the early 1950's when my mother rented an apartment above the local movie house. Depending on the wakefulness or good will of ushers I frequently entered the theater's dimly ornate symmetry where my mind was magically transported from a small industrial town in Pennsylvania through an illuminated window arrayed with curious objects, exotic places, weighty events, odd and fearless personages. Hollywood's black and white myths of post-war Americana became the ideal of what I and the country was or should be. Routine in that vision was an older more ambiguous myth, the Huck Finn to Sam Spade prototypes of principled American bad boys, models many of us still emulate. Hollywood, of course, was and is an effect of technology whose inexorable march through time and our consciousness carries all of us in its wake. It has for the most part made artists like me irrelevant, historically speaking anyway. I'm OK with that. Actually, I am grateful to take part in an activity that was ancient when those desert pictographs were new. My favorite art quotation is from Braque: "There is only one thing valuable in art: the thing that you cannot explain." The best part of art will never yield to words, to our insatiable need to verbalize, conceptualize, and ultimately politicize all things real and imagined. For at least a part of each day, daubing with pigment upon an empathic surface brings my mind into a silent, personal and intimately whimsical accord with the paradox and provocation of life as we know it, as Hollywood, technology, words and warfare permit us to know it.
Robt. R. Ecker © 2002
THE ANGEL STORY