Robert Lobe found his California vibe

Robert Lobe’s sculpture Butterfly overshadows the pen-and-ink works on paper on the wall in the background.

Robert Lobe has been to California many times. But the month-long visit for his residency at the Luz Art Institute in Encinitas has been different, he says.

“I think I understand the California thing for the first time,” says Lobe, who grew up in Cleveland, graduated from Oberlin College in 1967, went to graduate school at Hunter College and has lived in New York ever since.

“There is a different sense of time, a kind of exuberant mood, which is also different than New York.”

You might not necessarily see an effect on the sculpture he completed during his four weeks in Encinitas, but it’s there, he says.

It’s in the leaves and the form of the slender tree that is part of Latin Lovers, he explains, which don’t resemble leaves so much as abstractions of the same. He’s constructed them to that they can flutter in the wind, an effect he has never tried before in his art until now.

Reesey Shaw, the director of the Lux, exhibited several of Lobe’s sculptures in 1995, as part of an excellent exhibition called “Landscape Revisited,” which she organized as director of the California Center for the Arts Museum in Escondido. And she has been intent on having him come for a residency since the Lux opened in 2007.

“The show is her slant on my work,” says Lobe. “Even my project (for the Lux) was influenced by her mind’s eye.”

He is happy for her slant, too.

“Of course I’ve seen these pieces in my studio. Digested them so long. Seeing them here transforms the work for me.”

He isn’t quite sure how to describe that new perception, other than to say it will lead to new work.

Lobe, now 64, attracted considerable attention beginning in the 1980s, through his inclusion in such shows as “Emerging Americans” at the Solomon Guggenheim Museum and the 1987 Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art exhibitions, along with solo shows at Blum Helman. His sculptures are presented in a long list of prominent collections, including the Storm King Art Center in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

He sees himself as connected to two streams in art history.

One is, in his words “a direct lineage with David Smith and Donald Judd.”

In different ways, they conveyed to him the value of geometry and the expressive surface.

Lobe’s hammered forms took hold in the mid-1970s. Lobe wasn’t living far from the site of the former World Trade Center, where the construction site gave him access to unwanted stone—a true love for his Stone Clones.

The other stream connects him to 19th century American landscape painters, like those who painted in the Hudson River Valley. (He lives in Manhattan with his wife, the widely exhibited painter Kathleen Gilje.)

“This American tradition is very important to me. A lot of these works are about place. A sense of place really is a primary thing to me. These are also plein air compositions, too, since they are sculptures made outside.”

With this attention to place, perhaps it’s inevitable that much of the work in this exhibition has a “Northeast feel” to him.

Lobe’s love of material has propelled him into trying different materials to get new effects in recent years. Grown Fast is symptomatic of that interest, with its stainless-steel surface, far shinier than any of the other works on view. His foray into cast bronze, with Tap Root, appears to please him, too. It abstracts the shape of a tree trunk.

His trademark hammered works were originally done by hand, but about 1983, he started using pneumatic tools to speed the process.

“Setup and planning are everything. The hammering is actually fun.”