Drawing little universes on any scrap of paper within reach as a child, Rob Woodcox “fell in love with the imagination.” Not straying far from these early beginnings, as an adult, he became “tenaciously devoted to keeping that imagination alive.” Collaborating with teams of dancers, installation artists and body painters, today he creates large scale universes; fractal patterns of dancers in harmony with the surrounding landscape.
“I’ve gone through these two rebirth processes in my life.” Rob shares, stepping out from a lunch date with friends in Mexico City where he lives.
“One was being adopted, which I don’t remember, because I was a child. But it’s a process that definitely shaped my entire childhood and outlook on life. The other was coming out as a queer person.” He recalls his adopted family telling him “we chose you, we love you.”
“That was such a powerful gift for them to give me, because I remember thinking, I belong in this world because somebody chose me.” The perspective it gave him on love and connection can be seen visually and in the titles of his Dancer series, ‘Unity,’ ‘Interconnectivity’ and ‘Love Not Lost.’
“The goal is to celebrate this idea that we’re all part of the same organism, this planet earth.”
His Dancer series (as the title suggests), captures dancers of all disciplines, colours and identities tangled together. They swirl mid-air despite gravity like the naked muscular figures painted on the sistine chapel ceiling. Leaping jeté’s and handstands are patterned together, creating life-affirming scenes that waterfalls and red canyons bear impartial witness to. His ethereal photographs involve human pyramids and other acrobatic stunts both real and digitally mastered. Rob decides to keep people guessing about which feats of balance and athleticism were real or altered, though he adds, “everything is shot on location” to underline the fact that the light and landscape are real.
“We all have the power to rise above these constructs of society.”
The inspiration for these hyperreal scenes always begins with a defined concept. Sometimes drawn from “emotional journey’s” that voyage between high-phases of travel or post-breakup venerability. Other times, a simple wallpaper is enough to spark an idea, which was the case with the skyward dancers in his photographs The Wave and Sky Climb. But one theme pervades all his work, the seeds of which were sown as a boy scout climbing mountains for weeks at a time in his youth. This was a habit he continued later in life, with each expedition hearing separate anecdotes about the same story from locals he met along the way.
“I was seeing first hand, communities in rural regions being affected by climate change. I remember being in the Himalayas on my Everest expedition and the weather was surprisingly dry — all the locals were talking about how the rain would usually come in that season but it wasn’t coming anymore.” At the time, Rob’s career was veering in a more fashion-focused direction, but hearing these stories would ultimately change the course of his work. “Where I think our society is failing us the most, is on those subjects in regards to nature. We are nature, we rely so heavily on it, the air we breathe, the water we drink. All these things started to become apparent to me as I got older. The root of so many issues is this disconnection between modern human society and nature.”
“People who’ve been marginalised in any way, at the end of the day, they just deserve to be happy, they just deserve to enjoy their life.”
Rather than portray the darkness of these realisations, he presents humans at their most beautiful. In cooperation and connection with each other and their surroundings. When asked why he chooses this approach, without hesitation he points to the fact the media is already dominated by fear mentality. “I don’t really want to contribute to the fear, I want to contribute to the hope.” Where his photographs could represent a fight against environmental catastrophe, they amplify the beauty of nature, inspiring love and care for what could be lost.
“The goal is to celebrate this idea that we’re all part of the same organism, this planet earth — and we all have the power to rise above these constructs of society. We all have the ability to be there for each other, to support each other and to celebrate everything that is life, which manifests in so many different ways, just within the human species.”
Celebration is a central theme in his photographs and the Queer Love series is no different. It celebrates the joy of people who go “against the grain” of society. Referencing social media hashtag trends like ‘black boy joy’ or ‘queer joy’ as a micro revolution in a media landscape that mostly aligns these groups with trauma or tragedy, he says “people who’ve been marginalised in any way, at the end of the day, they just deserve to be happy, they just deserve to enjoy their life.” Witnessing Disney movies celebrating princes and princesses that left out the “rest of the representation” growing up, the weight of his position as a media creator is felt as an opportunity to uplift and advocate for his own community, “through simple, beautiful art.”
“I feel like if people see themselves, that’s everything. Seeing yourselves represented in this society means that you matter, shows that you’re cared for, it shows that there is a community for you. In the past when people didn’t see themselves on a screen, whether it was gender roles being blasted on the screen like “men do this and women do that and non-binary people don’t do this or trans people don’t exist.” When that was the status quo, that was the problem. That made people feel left out and it didn’t give them a place to be seen.”
“I’ve been able to make this journey and transition myself to a place where I focused on the positive, I focused on the beauty around me and surrounding myself with likeminded people and I now live in this beautiful reality.”
Rob’s artist biography describes his ‘coming out’ experience as “a societal passage only necessary from the lack of education and acceptance within the greater population.” But being queer taught him we have a choice in the matter. “In this world full of things that feel like obligation, we can choose the path that we take through all of those constructs and we can choose our family.” Feeling his ability to choose seems to be part of why he shifts his focus from the world’s loss, to its beauty — but there’s another reason for this approach. The universes he creates in his art, he creates in life too and for the same reason.
“I think art is a universal language that crosses all barriers of language, religion, politics.”
“We’re living in a society where wealthy individuals have most of the resources and everybody else is trying to fight to survive and at the end of the day, I want to inspire people. I want to show people that you know what, that may be the reality, but there’s ways to enjoy whatever stage of life you’re in, there’s ways to contribute and we don’t have to continue to subscribe to that narrative. We can create our own communities, our own environments. It’s something I’ve done myself.”
“It’s kind of weird to be here” he muses, thinking about where photography has taken him the last 12 years. “I was working at a pizza place and barely able to pay my rent when I was 19 up to 25. I’ve been able to make this journey and transition myself to a place where I focused on the positive, I focused on the beauty around me and surrounding myself with likeminded people and I now live in this beautiful reality.” Attributing his focus on beauty for creating his “beautiful reality,” clarifies why he takes this same approach to advocacy within his art, through reflecting aspects of the world he wants to see more of.
Through this worldview, Rob plans to direct and shoot a film working with organisations on the frontlines of environmental change, showing their work in hopes of inspiring action. “I think art is a universal language that crosses all barriers of language, religion, politics. Art has this amazing ability to make you feel things and when you feel things, you take action and I think that’s the role that art plays in our society. It allows people to either cry, or laugh or get angry and have some sort of response to those emotions and I think that’s a beautiful thing and I think artists should feel responsible, they should care about our planet and our world. Every battle, whether it’s for queer rights, or black or trans rights, there’s people in our historic past that have paved the way for us to be where we’re at now.”
Aside from its ability to spark change, it’s the theme of beauty that Rob Woodcox always seems to return to. “Art is very powerful. It’s always been a very necessary tool in this world and at the end of the day it’s what makes life enjoyable. All the forms of expression; art, music, dance, photography, cinema, that’s what makes life fun, so what would life be without the artists?”