This show demonstrated Robert Overby’s fascination with originality and authorship as early as the 1970s. As a professional graphic designer, Overby (1935–93) was accustomed to copy and repetition. As an artist, he delved deeply into the themes, inserting them into larger discourses of passing time and the impermanence of material existence.
For his “Restoration Paintings” Overby would purchase copies of famous works and then clean and restore them, treating them with the same care as if they were originals, even as his treatment eroded their surfaces. Similarly, in his serial lithographs, here represented by Fading Lady (1975) and R.R.O.S.E. (1974), an image was copied until all that remained was a ghostly trace.
Even Overby’s architectural casts, which he termed “Baroque Minimalism,” have an air of impermanence. Three interpretations of a screen door fade from a solid black resin-and-fiberglass panel (Blue Screen Door, 1971) to a blue neon line squiggling up the wall (Blue Door Edge, 1971) to a wan canvas sheet (Blue Screen Door Map, 1972) as though the door itself is wasting away.
For Overby, material and style were less important than the current pushing everything toward disappearance. Even as his works preserve their subjects, the impressions, rubbings, and copies testify to the fragility of all materials; nothing is permanent.
A version of this story originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 83.