A massacre of innocents: Robert Vore captures tragedy on canvas

By Sarah PridgeonBob Vore

The current exhibition at the 1875 Gallery both commemorates and invites dialogue on the tragedy of the Sandy Hook massacre. Artist Robert Vore of Beulah hopes that his small contribution will help to one day bring an end to such horrifying acts of terrorism, he says.

“It was such a shocking and horrible event that has been in my head ever since,” he explains. “As an artist, when something gets in my head I become obsessed with it and have to get it out on canvas.”

The focal point of the exhibition is a set of three stylized portraits of Adam Lanza, the young man who fatally shot 10 children and six members of staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School at the end of 2012.

“As I looked at photographs of him, I saw a blankness in his eyes that frightened me,” says Vore. “I wanted to capture the horror of an incident where a 20-year-old boy shoots six-year-old children.”

A number of smaller abstract paintings of guns accompany the portraits, mostly created during 2012. Vore visualized the two styles combined and tied together as a means to “ignite contributions to the dialogue to end terrorism,” he explains.

“I’m hoping that this show will keep the horrific incident in people’s minds to one day lead to the end of such things,” he goes on. “It’s my way of demonstrating that we find this intolerable and that we, as a nation and as a people, need to find an answer.”

The portraits are intentionally disturbing and uncomfortable to view. Despite the subject matter of some of the accompanying works, however, Vore does not believe that the problem lies with weaponry.

“It’s not about guns, it’s about how we raise our children and how we interact,” he says. “Teachers carrying guns and extra surveillance is not going to stop it happening, but the community coming together can.”

The exhibition is titled “Massacre of Innocence” in homage to a biblical reference. In the Gospel of Matthew, the “Massacre of the Innocents” occurred when King Herod executed young male children to remove the threat of a newborn king of the Jews and secure his own place on the throne.

“My wife, Lucinda, came up with the name. We decided to use ‘innocence’ in place of ‘innocents’ to broaden the theme,” he explains. “The name ties this into the horrific events that have happened in the past as well.”

Daydreaming in his studio, Vore has imagined expanding his project to schools around the state in an effort to raise awareness.

“If I could, I would take the exhibition to Sandy Hook, but I also thought it might be interesting to develop a program with schools to create portraits of the victims,” he says. “I would make it a statewide project.”

Vore has been a full-time artist since his retirement in 2000 but traces his artistic roots back to his studies at San Francisco State University in 1978, through which he earned a degree in painting with a minor in print making. He has exhibited in Nashville, Bowling Green, Spearfish and Rapid City.

“I would say my work is expressionistic,” he muses. “I let my subjects choose me but I don’t start out with an idea in mind. I let the process dictate what comes out and see what happens. I’ve had people point out things to me that I didn’t even know were there.”

Vore often works with mixed media, using printed material to create collage works. Sometimes, he says, he completes a piece only to find that he incorporated printed text from newspapers that he hadn’t known would have bearing on his subject matter when he began.

“I have to do art, I have no choice,” he says. “For me, it’s an obsession.”

“Massacre of Innocence” is currently showing at the 1875 Gallery and will be available for public viewing until the end of May.