Exhibit preview: “RURobot?” is a multi-media salute to our future electronic overlords

By Columbus Alive
From the June 6, 2013 edition

Robots are the new zombies.

OK, it’s probably too soon to make that pop cultural prediction, but anthropomorphic mechanics are taking over the Brewery District’s Gallery 831 this month. More than 40 artists, many from Columbus, contributed robot-inspired art for “RURobot?”

If the promise of chilling with a six-foot-tall walking robot (by Columbus artist Kevin Becker) at the show’s reception doesn’t intrigue you, just stop reading now.

The show’s curator, W. Ralph Walters, a painter with a studio at 400 West Rich and member of the 250-member-strong arts collective Art Party, isn’t so much into robots, but his friend, Indianapolis-based painter Rob James, is.

The “RURobot?” show was a Christmas present Walters gave to James, who frequently paints robot characters into his cityscapes, after he confided in Walters that it was difficult to get gallery shows out-of-state.

“I don’t know a single human being who doesn’t like robots,” Walters said, but he was surprised by how many artists were interested in participating in such a fantastic prompt.

Robots’ unique multi-generational appeal can be spotted in each piece. A photograph from Columbus’ DeDe Parker, for example, features a painterly lit portrait of a nude man sitting and holding a child’s robot; it’s from her series of adult men photographed with their favorite toys from their childhoods.

Walters also was impressed with the diversity of media submitted for the show. Paintings abound, but he also received many robot sculptures that are stationary and mobile. And although it started as a gift for a friend, curating a robot show turned out to be revealing to Walters about his own artwork, creating a few new pieces and finding artwork made years ago with subtle robot references he didn’t remember.

For the exhibit, the first of which Walters has curated, he composed music to play throughout the gallery, pulling from his expansive collection of old-time horror and sci-fi radio.

Walters is a neutral connoisseur of the paranormal. He doesn’t ascribe to anything secular, sci-fi or religious, but is fascinated by the beliefs people hold. One of his best jobs, he said, was illustrating articles and stories for a conspiracy theory magazine.

Today Walters illustrates and paints exquisitely detailed album covers for UK doom metal bands. He paints re-creations of mythological scenes and multi-meaning takes on religious iconography. Above his studio’s couch is a Mars version of Adam and Eve. His interest in maybe-real subject matter comes from a respect for the human need to believe something, even if that means believing in nothing.

“I don’t need to believe it to find it beautiful,” Walters said. “The world is a fascinating thing. Just the wondering is enough for me.”

One thing he doesn’t wonder about: how much better visitors will enjoy the exhibit’s opening reception if they attended it dressed up like robots.