Gabriel Nivera
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Pictures & Conversations

A collection of images and the stories behind their creation.

Amir's Garden with Rob Funderburk

Amir’s Garden – Griffith Park - Los Angeles, California

I am huffing and puffing up a steep and craggy trail, the sun is beating down on my neck; “How are you doing?” Rob calls out. “Great!” I yell back as I try to catch my breath. We are making our way up to Amir’s Garden where Rob will be sketching some scenes. Amir’s Garden is an oasis in the middle of the otherwise dry and arid landscape that covers the majority of Griffith Park. It was planted by Iranian immigrant, Amir Dialameh, who spent 12 years nurturing the garden; transforming it from a barren wasteland devastated by a fire to a lush 5 acre shaded oasis, filled with over 60 species of trees, shrubs, and flowers. This is where Rob would start the studies that would be the basis of the piece he would create in his studio.

We walked around the garden, looking for a spot that granted a good view for Rob, and a photogenic background for me.  Once we found out spot, Rob pulled out a sketch book of water colour paper, and various all sorts of materials (acrylic paint pens, sumi ink pens, water-soluble graphite), and started sketching away; with lose and quick strokes, initially they looked just like little dabs and globs of varying shades of grey and black.  After a few minutes, a hillside took shape, foliage appeared, wispy clouds, and tiny building in the distance emerged from the paper revealing themselves.

A recent transplant from Chicago, Rob has only recently embraced his fulltime identity as an artist.  Holding a degree in studio art from Indiana University, Rob applied his creative skills to various jobs in adjacent industries; drafting, conceptual rendering, fabrication; exhibiting in his spare time, and taking on commissions on the side. It was in 2018 he decided to move to California to pursue his passion and dream to be a full time artist; after having completed a large commission of a mural for a new corporate headquarters.  Alongside his wife Gretchen (a freelance writer) and dog Cody, they embarked on a new journey.   “We wanted to live closer to nature, closer to diverse topography and water, and wanted to plunge into the magic and mystery of a new place.”

Like many creators, Rob juggles to find the balance in the workflow; learning to “make it (art) central and sustainable in my lifestyle”, while also appreciating the learning process and the journey of creation.  Many of Rob’s pieces begin life as small sketches, then get re-created in studio on larger pieces of paper, then eventually after many iterations, and a little bit of luck find their final life as murals.  This life cycle requires Rob to “think and plan a lot up front. (it) Takes concentration and discipline to “be so free.” In this process Rob has learned to embrace “happy accidents” letting them guide the process. 

We pick back up in his studio a few days after our field trip to the park; here Rob has laid out a number of the sketches he completed during our visit, and is recreating them on larger pieces of paper; this time adding Chinese ink-brush painting technique to the mix.  The larger pieces becomes an amalgamation of the smaller studies; picking elements from each to create a wholly unique scene; much like we create composites in photography, to satisfy layouts.

In the corner of my eye, I spy a massive filing cabinet in his studio, I ask if I can peek in; it is overflowing with sketch books, studies, large pieces, small pieces, abstracts, animals, landscapes, city-scapes; it’s a smorgasbord and it is just a small collection of the years of work Rob has been creating that fills his home studio.    If there’s a common thread among all the artists I have had the pleasure of photographing, is they are prolific. Their lives are filled with all sorts of art.  They don’t create because they want to, they create because they have to.  Check out more of Rob’s work at on his website.