Sculptor Bob Trotman has long engaged in a critique of corporate savagery.
In a nod to the soul-crushing environments that inspire his work, Trotman, of Casar, N.C., has titled his solo exhibitions “Business as Usual” for the last 10 years. Originally a furniture maker, Trotman works mostly in wood, a warm and inviting material that contrasts sharply with his subject matter. But lately he has incorporated other materials and further broadened his work with the addition of motion and sound.
You can see his sculptures, along with preliminary sketches and clay maquettes (models), at UNC Charlotte’s Projective Eye Gallery through Dec. 14 and at Davidson College’s Van Every/Smith Galleries through Dec. 8.`
For maximum effect, see the UNC Charlotte show first, then the one at Davidson.
The son of a banker, Trotman, to the dismay of his family, studied philosophy in college. These two poles — the money-soaked, country-clubby world he was expected to embrace and the examined life he ultimately sought — create the tension that gives Trotman’s work its depth and clarity.
The exhibitions share some features. At the entrance to each, visitors are exhorted to check in via a time clock.
And each exhibition includes “White Man,” a large figure suspended from the ceiling, hovering ominously. His posture is ambiguous: He could be flying, falling, or bullying his way into the space. As with many of the figures in these shows, it is hard to tell if he’s the victim, perpetrator or both. Cast in urethane resin, he is literally and figuratively a hollow shell of a man.
Maquettes, tiny clay models of Trotman’s larger pieces, are scattered throughout both shows. A man about to jump, random heads, wagging tongues, stray arms — all are cleverly arranged on shelves, like little nagging bits of conscience. One particularly funny and alarming sight is a lone, severed ear on a shelf in a corner at Projective Eye, which seems like evidence of an environment so brutal that many cruelties go unnoticed.
Despite the shows’ commonalities, they are different in character.
At Projective Eye, which has works completed between 2004 and 2016, there are a lot of falling, leaping or sinking people. Despite all this calamity, the mood is repressed, with anger roiling under a thin veneer of civility. That tone is enhanced by the space, awash in natural light. All is bright and sunny, and you can glimpse some of Charlotte’s gleaming corporate towers through the windows. It’s as if all the characters in the gallery know they are being watched and behave accordingly.
In “Cover Up,” four people either hide or are sequestered under a drop cloth.`
Portrait busts “Lisa,” “Stu” and “John” have removable eyes (and mouth, in Stu’s case) that can be changed out during the course of an exhibition to express emotions including surprise, disdain, apprehension and shame. “Safe Woman” has a safe for a body; her head is hollowed out and filled with investment documents.`
Although most of these figures seem put upon (or, at worst, cagey), there are glimmers of a brutishness that reaches full expression at Davidson. This is most evident in “Waiter,” a hand, with a motorized tapping finger, wearing a signet ring inscribed with the letters “VIP.”
At Davidson, where most of the work is from 2014 to the present, Trotman’s emotions are unleashed in a torrent of satire.
Many of the sculptures are motion-activated. In fact, if you move quickly in one section of the gallery, you can set off a cascade of noise and movement, activating five pieces at once. Among these are “Trumpeter,” an incoherent, babbling man with a horn for a head, and “Capitulation Device,” a white flag attached to a metronome-like machine that waves maniacally, as if surrender cannot happen soon enough.
In the video “Upper Hand,” a seemingly benevolent hand dangles $100 bills against a cheery blue sky, but drops them just before other hands can grasp them. A sappy rendition of “Fascination” plays in the background.
Several gleefully nasty works cannot be thoroughly described in this wholesome family newspaper. “Safe Sex,” for example, is … a guy and safe. In “Fountain,” a yapping man with a safe for a body relieves himself into a bucket, in a not-so-subtle reference to trickle-down economics.
“Denier” is a male head atop the pyramid from the Great Seal of the United States. A hand dangles a cherry tantalizingly close to his mouth. The Great Seal’s palm trees are represented by cheap little plastic trees, heightening the pathetic nature of the man’s desire.
Trotman depicts a dehumanizing world, a place of casual cruelty and hypocrisy. It is grim and funny, but never condescending. Trotman is critiquing a system, not the individuals within it, so his work is relatable, no matter where you are – in or out of the corporate hierarchy.