Big Bend Real Estate Guide November 2021 - Page 14

Assemblage art at home in Terlingua

by Shawna Graves
An example of Rob ’ s earlier work . ( Courtesy Photo )
Husband-and-wife team Robert , who goes by Rob , and Tulisha , nicknamed Tish by Terlingua friends , collectively known as the Dampiers , brought their love of turning found objects into fine art to the Big Bend , with a recent move from Galveston to Terlingua Ranch .
Rob ’ s art career began on the Texas coast when he worked as an architectural sculptor ’ s apprentice , with University of Houston Department of Architecture Professor Greg Bruegger , on large-scale public sculptures in steel , stainless and other metals . Rob came to the table with welding skills and a grand curiosity , and soon learned the mechanics of building architectural sculpture . On the side , he tooled around with making his own work . When a prominent Houston art collector showed interest in what he made , Rob thought maybe he was on to something .
He never really considered himself an artist to begin with , but had always been a bit of a collector , beach combing , antiquing , and taking home other people ’ s discarded treasures .
“ When I started , I didn ’ t even know if I could call it art ,” Rob said . He had no formal art education .
But using his newly acquired building skills on his collection of found objects made sense , and his first sale was a confidence booster , so he decided to continue .
As a twenty-something Rob relocated from Houston to Galveston , landing in the lively historic art district called the Strand . There he met Tulisha , co-manager for Hendley Market , a hub for the artistic community . The connection was immediate for them both . “ I ’ m going to marry her ,” was his first thought . “ I thought the same thing ,” Tulisha added , though realizing those thoughts would take some time .
Even before their romance came to fruition , Tulisha was taken by Rob ’ s art and was eager to promote it . As a creative writing graduate of Naropa University in Boulder and a regular in the Texas coastal art scene , Tulisha had a trained and knowledgeable eye . Rob ’ s self-taught style fell under the umbrella of assemblage art — sculptures assembled from often disparate elements scavenged by the artist .
A couple of Rob ’ s early influences included stop-motion animators The Brothers Quay , whose films played on repeat in the background of his studio , and one of the pioneers of assemblage art , Joseph Cornell . Rob admires Cornell ’ s lifestyle , not just his art . Cornell lived a quiet life , whose inner world was expressed in
Robert Dampier Studio signage . ( Courtesy Photo )
intricate collages . “ He was the opposite of ( Jackson ) Pollock ( an art contemporary of Cornell ), who wanted to be a rock star . Cornell was known for the quality of his work , not the grandeur of his art lifestyle ,” Rob noted .
It would take a few years before Rob and Tulisha would kindle their romance , but once they did , they became an artistic power couple . Rob was the hermit of the two , staying home , working on art projects , or wandering beaches for castaway objects and other finds . To say he was a recluse is a bit of an understatement — Tulisha was often mistaken as the artist herself since Rob rarely went to his own shows . As a social butterfly and a natural networker , Tulisha built a clientele for his work . She became art manager of Robert Dampier Studio , arranging shows and working with collectors . Because of her success in building him up through word of mouth , there was no need for a permanent gallery to house his work .
That kind of mobility would make transitioning the studio to Terlingua easier .
Tish had grown up visiting the Big Bend on camping trips with her parents and it long remained one of her favorite places . She told Rob about Big Bend many times over their almost 20 years together , but it wasn ’ t until three years ago that Rob would finally experience it firsthand .
After rebuilding their Galveston studio twice due to coastal flooding , the couple began to consider other options . They put their Victorian house on the market , and as soon as it sold they made a celebratory trip to Big Bend . Rob was just as enchanted as Tish with the wide-open spaces and dramatic landscapes . On that visit , Rob ’ s first , they found a 15-acre property for sale and bought it outright .
It took a couple of years to untether their lives from the Texas coast and prepare for the move , but they finally became full-time Terlingua residents at the beginning of 2020 . Starting with a couple of shipping containers plopped onto their property , the two set to work creating a captivating off-grid studio and home space .
Rob ’ s knack for fabricating trompe l ' oeils in his art was put to work in personalizing their container home . The interior walls were fitted with stained wood from scavenged pallets to resemble antique board and batten siding , like the inside of a late 1800s saloon .
It ’ s important for the couple to incorporate as many scavenged , recycled , and natural items into the design as possible , bearing an undeniable resemblance to Rob ’ s art aesthetic .
Rob is drawn to the assemblage lifestyle as
14 Big Bend Real Estate Guide • November 2021