On December 1, 2017, Skidmore students Teague Costello ’19 and Emily Cooper ’19 interviewed artist Dario Robleto about his works You Make My World a Better Place to Find, 1996–1998, and Falsetto Can Be A Weapon, 2001, both from the Tang Teaching Museum collection. You Make My World a Better Place to Find was on view in the fall 2017 exhibition Other Side: Art, Object, Self.
This interview was part of a series of interviews with artists conducted by Skidmore students in the Art History course “The Artist Interview,” led by Dayton Director Ian Berry.
The video above shows excerpts from the interview with Robleto. A longer, edited transcript of the interview is below.
Teague Costello ’19
Could you start by discussing growing up, your influences, and becoming an artist?
I was a very curious kid. I still am a curious man. I have a deep passion for many subjects: music, science, history, poetry. I became a biology major, but I realized early on that art was the road to pursue if I couldn’t choose a passion, and I just couldn’t. Art is this umbrella term for me that allows me to pursue them all. And that has evolved into a practice that’s wide-ranging as far as what I do and what I think an artist can or should do. I always make objects; I love materials. But my practice extends more broadly out and that comes from a deep-rooted, wild, broad curiosity as a little boy.
I’m really lucky to have had my mother and my grandmother, two beautiful, loving women, in my life. I like to say that whatever is good about me as an artist is because of my grandmother. When I was a little boy, my mother ran a honky-tonk in Texas. On occasions when she didn’t have anybody to look after me, I would go with her and she would hand me a bunch of coins and I would plant myself next to the jukebox. As a six-year-old, I was choosing what songs to play in that honky-tonk.
This core thing I had learned—I couldn’t have articulated it then, of course, but later I realized it—is that the lyrics coming out of the jukebox were not only metaphor, they were life, exactly what I saw happening in the honky-tonk. The lyrics were dictating broken hearts, cheating, crashing a truck, whatever, it was all right there, and a pretty dark side of it, too. I’m glad I saw that because I think then I realized art is life.
My mother moved on to running a hospice for twenty years, which also left a deep mark on me and my attitudes about art and art making. So somewhere between this honky-tonk and a hospice, I formed my worldview of art, and I’m still trying to uphold the values I learned from those experiences.
Early on you did some deejaying and sampling with music. By becoming an artist, you still employ deejaying in some sense.
I never let go of any passions; they are all still moving at some level. Some, like deejaying, have mutated into my practice as an object maker. Becoming a DJ started to form a worldview that was technical like mixing two records together, sampling, splicing, song sequencing. There’s an artistry to all those things of course, which I wanted to explore as a creative expression. But it became more of a worldview, especially sampling. Everything around me has a possibility to come to life again with some reorganization, some manipulation, some alteration. Hidden inside a groove of a ten-cent record at the bottom of a dusty record bin in a thrift store, if you know how to manipulate it, there is a whole universe to unlock. And that was a bigger principle: why not apply that to all of life?
Can you speak about manipulating music and lyrics into a physical object?
Early on I learned skills at a technical level, like scratching a record or splicing or beat matching—things that any DJ needs to know—and I brought that technical skill set over to the sculptural world. So, for example, I thought, what if I kept scratching a record until it literally turns to dust? Patsy Cline’s voice just moving back and forth over and over until the stylus disintegrates her voice into powder? And then sweep up the powder, hold it in my hand, Patsy Cline’s voice in my hand, all that she represents, all her power and beauty.
At its core, I was still sampling. I took one thing and through manipulation, I changed it into something else. But new meaning arose from the alteration, and that is the beauty of sampling to me, that you can tease something out of it in this unexpected way when you change its material composition. So it was pretty crucial to my early work to have that DJ background.