Robers channels inspiration from ecosystems into art

Taylor Robers explores the Letchworth teaching forest, stopping to examine fungi growth on a fallen tree. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

Natural inspiration

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Published January 26, 2023


Discovering the link between art and nature made a significant impact on Taylor Robers as a young artist. As an MFA student and the 2022-23 artist-in-residence with the UB Arts Collaboratory, Robers says she feels empowered to translate her curiosity for forest ecosystems and related research into tangible forms.

“The work I create is meant to ignite the viewer's curiosity in the vital, yet often-overlooked parts of a forest ecosystem. My abstract painting sculptures of decaying trees, burls and fungi invite the viewer to physically shift their viewpoint and explore closer. I create art as a way of working through and passing on what I’ve learned and experienced relating to the forest,” says Robers, who was raised between the farmland, prairies and forests of Minnesota, and the wetlands and forests of Northern Wisconsin.

An interdisciplinary artist, she creates installations of painting, sculpture and sound that forge a connection between viewers and forest ecosystems by igniting curiosity through sensory experiences. Her work has been exhibited at the Minneapolis Institute for Art, Gamut Gallery and CEPA. On Feb. 3, her work will be featured in the BAM! (Buffalo Art Movement) Expo, which is showcasing the work of 28 emerging artists. The expo is curated by Tiffany Gaines and Edreys Heru Wajed; an opening reception will be held from 5–10:30 p.m.

Robers says she’s enjoying her time at UB and is especially excited to host her thesis show in April. She spoke with UBNow about her art and her experience at UB. 

How did you decide to attend UB?

I looked at funded graduate programs and I chose UB because of the art program’s openness to interdisciplinary work and collaboration between fields. I came into the program as a painter and now I consider myself an interdisciplinary artist working in painting, sculpture and sound. I was also interested in the city of Buffalo and surrounding landscapes.

Taylor Robers in her studio. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

When did you realize you were artistically inclined?

I have always been making things and have supportive parents who encourage my interests. Since an early age, my mom made sure I had a variety of art supplies to try, and art history books to read. My dad built me a large desk and storage for my art supplies. In middle school, I started drawing animals while watching nature documentaries as a way to learn more about what was in my yard and beyond.

When or how did you realize you could combine art and ecology?

During the fall of my senior year of undergrad at the University of Minnesota, I took an art and ecology class that opened up a whole new path for me through the realization that art and science didn’t have to be siloed. I could still learn about organisms and relationships that build ecosystems and make work about it.

Working in the Center for the Arts woodshop, Taylor Robers transforms laminated wood into organic forms. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

Tell us a bit about your research and artwork?

My process usually starts with walks in the forest, where I take in sights, sounds, smells, feelings, and stop to observe fungi, plants, moss, insects, animals and decaying trees. I take photographs and sound recordings for reference and leave only footprints. To build my freestanding painting sculptures, I collect wood scraps, laminate them into a form, and then carve into the form to create an organic surface. Then I layer water-soluble oil paint to create rich texture and colors that can be found on the forest floor. Sound devices are placed inside the form and play field recordings when they detect the close presence of the viewer. The freestanding painting sculptures are placed together to form a community and an immersive experience for the viewer to explore. Through art, I can translate my curiosity for forest ecosystems and related research into tangible forms. My freestanding painting sculptures inspired by decaying trees reminds the viewer to look down and explore what is happening at their feet.

How did your residency appointment with the Arts Collaboratory develop? And how is it going?

In my first semester here, I saw on the Arts Collaboratory website that there was a residency for UB students, and I reached out to the then-director, Bronwyn Keenan, to introduce myself and let her know I was interested in this opportunity. She visited my studio and saw my installation and after several discussions, the Arts Collaboratory offered me the residency. The residency has been absolutely wonderful. 500 Seneca, which is the space provided to the artist-in-residence, is close to many of the art spaces in Buffalo and I’ve been able to attend more openings and explore the city. I’ve also been exploring Tifft Nature Preserve and Reinstein Woods. I will oversee Cass Gallery from February to August. I have also been planning a mural for one of the building’s stairwells. I haven't created a mural before, but it’s been on my list of things to try, so I’m excited for this opportunity. Everyone at 500 Seneca is so friendly as well; it’s a great community.

What’s next for you?

My thesis exhibition is opening in late April in Cass Gallery at 500 Seneca. Inspired by the forest floor, decaying trees and fungi, freestanding painting sculptures will be placed together to form a community and an immersive experience for the viewer to explore. I’m currently applying to more artist residencies and hope to teach university art classes in the fall. I’ve been really enjoying teaching and seeing students’ work transform throughout the semester.

To see more of Robers’ art, follow her on Instagram, or visit her website.