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RESCHEDULED: Artist Rob Hessler focuses on difficult issues in new Savannah show

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RESCHEDULED: Artist Rob Hessler focuses on difficult issues in new Savannah show

05 Sep 2017

The reception for Sept. 8 has been rescheduled for Sept. 22 because of Hurricane Irma forecast.

Artist Rob Hessler recently began re-evaluating his career trajectory and came to a stark conclusion. He realized that he no longer wanted to sell his artwork.

That may be a strange thing for an artist who has solid gallery representation at Speakeasy Art Gallery in New Jersey and has pulled off a number of successful exhibitions in Los Angeles, New Jersey and Savannah in the past few years. But Hessler’s goals are loftier than the direct commercial exchange of money for the labors of his creativity. He wants to change the world. Or at least his corner of the world.

“The key to me is making art with a value beyond dollars and cents,” says Hessler. “Making sales is nice. It feels really good. That has been the model of art having value… but the way that making sales feels, it’s difficult to disassociate that feeling with the art-making process down the road.”

Hessler explains that the “rush” of selling his work in two lucrative back-to-back shows had an impact on his thinking about art making. He began to have a strong reaction against the concept of creating art, putting art in a gallery — which he says is essentially a high-end boutique store — selling it, then rinsing and repeating. So he began to actively fight against the materialistic impulse of simply making art to sell and began making art that dealt with difficult issues meaningful to him, like immigration, school shootings and the destruction of the environment.

“It became something that was almost intentional,” says Hessler. “I wanted to have discussions about difficult topics, not just make a piece so I can sell it and have it on someone’s living room wall.”

The beauty of Hessler’s finely detailed, labor-intensive drawings is that they are visually appealing and pleasing to look at. The difficult subject matter isn’t always apparent until Hessler explains it.

“It had this positive effect on me,” says Hessler. “It gave me the opportunity to step entirely away from being a salesman — because I’m reliant upon making the sale to make my living — to instead have a dialogue. And, you know, that’s infectious. So when people see, in a packed gallery space, the artist talking about difficult subject matter with someone, it becomes a sort of intimate conversation because you’re talking about these difficult subjects.

“Other people feel free to engage in that conversation amongst themselves and it kind of has this impact on the community which is really valuable to me.”

Hessler is lucky the gallery that represents him is supportive of his direction. Hessler has also pursued alternate methods of funding through former patrons and grant writing. Another larger goal of his is to connect other like-minded creatives and activists to be a part of the dialogue about how change can be made in a real way.

The exhibition opening Sept. 8 at the Cultural Arts Gallery titled “(the other side of the) Worlds Collide” features Hessler’s fantastically realized alternate universe where “the people, places and concepts of our world are reflected by a combination of their physical features and the impact that they’ve had on us in our world in the past, present and going forward into the future.”

The exhibition’s opening night will also include a panel discussion on “The Impact of Art on the Community.” Funded in part by a Puffin Foundation grant, the panel consists of Hessler, Deep Center’s Dare Dukes, local hip-hop sensation Clay Hodges, Brenau University Gallery Director Nichole Rawlings and moderator Kris Hummer, media content producer for WSAV. The event will be filmed by Drew Hunt and his filmmaking partner Lonnie Thompson. Hunt is the Edward R. Murrow Award-winning director of the documentary “Hurricane Matthew.”

Hessler also has a Go Fund Me campaign related to this project that can be found at Gofundme.com/SupportCommunityArts.

IF YOU GO

What: “(the other side of the) Worlds Collide” by Rob Hessler

When: Sept. 8-29; opening reception, panel discussion 6-9 p.m. Sept. 22

Where: Cultural Arts Gallery, 9 W. Henry St.

Cost: Free

Info: savannahga.gov/arts

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