The studio of San Antonio artist Danville Chadbourne is the visual opposite of the elegant, austere exhibition of his sculpture at the Villa Finale Museum and Gardens.
At Villa Finale, a dozen human-scaled works are placed throughout the grounds, modernist counterpoints to the Victorian-era decorative arts collection inside the 1876 Italianate mansion. Inside his Beacon Hill studio, literally hundreds of artworks fill every available space on the floors and walls in each of several rooms and the yard outside.
That burgeoning inventory is one reason Chadbourne recently won an Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation individual support grant of $25,000, joining a list of mature artists from diverse locations. The New York-based foundation describes the winners as artists who have “dedicated their lives to developing their art, regardless of their level of commercial success” and have “worked for 20 years or more in a mature phase of art.” The award was announced April 29.
In an interview at his studio, the 70-year-old Chadbourne said he makes a living selling his artwork through several regional galleries, including REM Gallery in San Antonio. However, sales are not enough to keep up with his production. He works on up to 100 individual pieces at a time, for up to 10 years each, including wood carvings, paintings, drawings, and ceramic sculpture such as the group of works currently showing at Villa Finale.
In an average year, Chadbourne will finish between 40 to 50 pieces of work. Over his 50-year career, that would add up to more than 2,000 artworks, but he said he’s lost count, and he has no plans to slow down. Two upcoming San Antonio exhibitions and a show planned for the Wichita Falls Museum of Art have him busily planning new work.
Though the Villa Finale exhibition is officially up through May 24, one piece has already been removed, sent to
a sculpture competition at the Kemp Center for the Arts, also in Wichita Falls, where he won the first place award in last year’s competition.
The absence of the orange-and-red The Oblique Memory of Concealment (2008-2012) lends resonance to its title, as do other instances: A bright green patch of moss adorns the large blue oval of The Unlikely Refuge for Displaced Impulses (2015-19), and a line of white bird poop – the bane of outdoor sculpture – streaks down the green biomorphic form of Instinctive Disguise for Blind Acceptance (2013-19).
His titles, based on poetic associations, deliberately welcome such coincidences, Chadbourne said. “I used to write poetry a lot, years ago. … I love language and I love the way words do certain kinds of ambiguous things, the way these forms also have some ambiguity about them.”
Ambiguity in the forms activates ideas, Chadbourne explained. “It’s about the suggestive possibilities of interpretation, so it puts a lot of weight on the viewer to bring some experience to that. You can look at it and say, ‘Oh, that’s kind of a beautiful shape, but why is that a beautiful shape, and what does it mean?”
The shapes recall bodily forms like fingers, hands, limbs, and torsos, as much as vegetal forms like cacti and the plants Chadbourne grows in the garden he and his wife, Diana Roberts, share.
Though they might somewhat resemble traditional figural monuments, he said the sculptures instead elevate irrationality, illogic, and sensuality, and that he considers the works “monuments to the poetic.”
At heights between 55 inches and 94 inches, the slender, stacked structures are human-scaled. Their earthenware bodies and custom glazes in earth tones and brighter colors such as rich blue hues, yellows, oranges, and reds, are products of Chadbourne’s ongoing experiments with the chemistry of ceramics.
One piece in the backyard of his studio features a greenish glaze recalling an aged copper patina. “I have several systems, one of which was an ash base glaze that I use a lot,” Chadbourne explained. “It’s basically just ashes out of the barbecue pit with clay and some colorants … so it’s a really primitive glaze, but also, I can do some things with it.”
With 102 solo shows listed on his curriculum vitae, including a four-part retrospective exhibition at four different institutions, Chadbourne’s accomplishments back up his words.
The Gottlieb Foundation grant comes at a propitious time, he said, allowing him to finally purchase stone bases for several sculptures awaiting completion. He also looks forward to working on publications for his upcoming exhibitions, made with the help of his son Conan, an expert photographer, he said. The funds will help with publication costs.
Surrounded by 50 years of his accumulated artwork that hasn’t found its way into private or museum collections, Chadbourne said he spends little time thinking about the eventual fate of his artworks. “Not my problem. I have no idea,” he said, laughing. “I would love for it to go someplace.”
“Obviously, and ideally, it would be great if you had a museum that cared enough about it to make a difference.”
He said his compelling need to make the work is what continues to drive him, matching the dedication the Gottlieb Foundation seeks for its grantees, who may reapply and can win up to three times.
For now, Chadbourne will keep working, but he did acknowledge he envisions a permanent home for the work after he’s gone. “If there would be some place for this to stay together, as a thing, I kind of daydream about it,” he said.
Danville Chadbourne is on view on the grounds of Villa Finale Museum and Garden officially through May 24, though museum Executive Director Jane Lewis said most of the work will remain on view through mid-summer. While the museum has limited hours and charges an entrance fee, the grounds are accessible for free Tues.-Sat. 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m., on the corner of King William and East Sheridan streets.