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Artist's Statement and Biography: Robert Buelteman

One successful career satisfies most visual artists. Some, however, have had two notable and complementary careers. Robert Buelteman is among them, having achieved recognition in both commercial and fine arts.

Rob Buelteman has been making art photographs, independent of commercial requirements, for the past twenty years. In distinguishing between his commercial and his art work, Buelteman refers to Ansel Adams, an inspiring and yet intimidating presence in the history of American landscape photography. "Adams said," Buelteman explains, loosely quoting the master, "that there are assignments from within and from without. Art work is self-generating and independent. It's an end in itself--not a means to something else like selling a product or a service.

"Commitment to the great things in life is what my work is about," Buelteman continues. "I think of my profession as having a kind of grace. It's the possibility of seeing more than most people do. There's a recognition that there is a certain rightness about the world, that there is a fundamental design to life. I want to work to express that."

For all its lack of specificity, an image may evoke a sense of place in viewers. It stimulates their memories so that they interpret what is unknown as something familiar. In this way they participate in the artistic process. The secret of Buelteman's art is to practice his technical skills so masterfully that no control is apparent. Everything looks straightforward, unstudied, undesigned, honest.

Through his masterful printwork Buelteman creates bridges between what is experienced physically, and what can be experienced spiritually. "I feel I have succeeded," he says, "when people tell me that they have seen a location before, because I know that the only place that that scene exists is in the print--and now in their hearts as well.

"I use light and the tools of photography to create my works the way painters use pigments and brushes to create theirs," Buelteman continues. "Like some of them, also," he adds, "I find my sources in the visible world of nature.

"My inspiration, however, is something else," he observes of his creative activities. "I have a vision I want to express. More often than not, I know the image I want to create--not simply record--before I set out to search for the circumstances or environment where I might find what I need in nature, then I use my craft to force the result into the shape of the vision within.

"What I want to do is to inspire a sense of wonder in the beauty and mystery of these images. I want to convey the joy of being alive and being awake to those rare moments of special perception that life gives to us, moments that are fleeting and shared with no one else at that time, and yet have been experienced by us all.

"Questions, not answers, are what my work is about," Buelteman says. "Answers have their value, but only questions can change things. Art doesn't give me answers. It is not therapy for me. I'm not motivated by trying to make myself feel better, but to explore myself and to discover things about myself that I don't know. I hope that others, in responding to my work, will discover things about themselves.

"I've never come across a truly great photograph that was an answer to anything," he continues. "That's what commercial work does. It provides answers. That's what you're hired to do. But art is a questioning, a healthy, alive questioning.

"Maybe that's the reason for photography's handicap as an artistic medium, it's simple accessibility. It's readily interpretable. People are always looking for answers. They think they find them when they recognize something. It's profoundly human not to want to be bothered by questions.

"When I'm working on commission I work very hard to give my clients a solution. That's what they want. But in making art I work very hard to ask questions," he concludes.

Considering his successes, it is ironical that Buelteman came to his career in art by chance. As a teenager he intended to follow hisfathers calling as a commercial pilot. While studying aeronautics at the University of Colorado in Boulder, however, he acquired a camera from a friend in lieu of repayment of a loan. The experience of shooting his first roll of film during a ski trip to Utah determined his vocation. He returned to the San Francisco Bay Area where he studied fine arts at San Francisco State University and later at the University of California, Berkeley Extension.

During the 1970's Buelteman enjoyed great success heading a firm based in Newport Beach, California, that provided photographic murals, photographs, and paintings to business offices and museums. Later he returned to the San Francisco Bay Area, married, opened a studio in the City, and started a family. He reset his priorities following a crisis in health--a brain seizure in 1989--since then his work in art has been his principle focus.

To learn more about Robert Buelteman and his work, please visit his website at

If you'd like to order his book, The Unseen Peninsula, please visit The Orion Society Bookstore.

In addition, the poster from The Orion Society's Watershed Conference features Buelteman's "Arcularius Ranch." If you'd like to order this poster, please visit "The Orion Society Marketplace."

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