Local Arts

Art gives you ‘patience for things you don’t initially understand,’ sculptor tells teens

A teen makes her own sculpture at Bob Trotman’s workshop.
A teen makes her own sculpture at Bob Trotman’s workshop. bhamblin@charlotteobserver.com

North Carolina-based sculptor Bob Trotman wants you to ask yourself: What does an angry little man in a suit, with a trumpet for a head, say to you about power? How does a giant tapping finger make you feel? What is the mystery underneath a cloth with business shoes poking out?

Trotman hosted workshops last week at the Mint Museum Uptown for teachers and teens. The teen workshop was part of the Mint’s NexGen program, where young people get to talk and work with visiting artists and designers.

“It’s more like a daydream that I would like to draw you into. There’s not a statement or any answers or anything. It just kind of brings you into a state of thinking about power and how it works,” said Trotman.

Trotman had the teens sit in front of two of his sculptures – “Trumpeter” and “Waiter” – as he picked their brains about what they saw in his work. Then he led them to a room to create their own sculptures with clay.

Born in Winston-Salem the son of a banker, Trotman said he chose not to follow in his parents’ business footsteps, and to pursue art (and a more modest lifestyle) instead. He leans on humor to convey his views, he told the teens.

When describing “Trumpeter” (2014), he said it’s now “hard to avoid” a comparison to President Donald Trump. The sculpture – a child-sized man in a brown business suit – emits a noise, from its trumpet head, that sounds angry, though you can’t distinguish the words.

Size in comparison to the viewer is an important aspect of Trotman’s work, he said. “Trumpeter” is shorter than most people who come across him, so the idea of his power seems comical. “Waiter” (2014), a larger-than-life man’s hand, with one huge finger tapping, conveys: “You’re in trouble. You got some explaining to do.” You do not want this guy to be your boss.

Trotman said the teenagers understood his sculptures more in the context of teachers or parents, but that it’s great that they are getting an early start on art. Art “gives you a lot of patience for things that you don’t initially understand … instead of just rejecting it because you don’t understand.”

Trotman titles all of his shows “Business as Usual.” More of his work will be on view in two solo shows coming up this fall, at the Projective Eye Gallery and Davidson College.