Monday, November 29, 2010

New Works By Judy Kensley McKie In Wood (as well as Bronze and Stone)

Though I try to restrict my arts coverage to wood art, I have what I call the JKM exception, which states, if your initials are JKM I'll discuss what ever you make, regardless of the medium. Coincidentally, Judy Kensley McKie has those very same initials so I was happy that when I came across her show at Gallery NAGA it was full of museum quality work that included wood sculptures as well as bronze and stone.

Of all the work in the show I was most intrigued with her abstract basswood relief because it is so completely different than anything else of her's that I've seen.

Abstract Headboard
carved basswood
40" x 63" x 1 3/4"

Not only does it lack any animal imagery, but there are no smooth, graceful curves. It is full of jagged, sharp edges, almost like shards of glass or metal off-cuts that were thrown on a floor. It is hard to imagine anything more distant from her breathtakingly beautiful and often humorous furniture.

In her conversation with Arthur Dion, the gallery director, reproduced in the catalog, she says that she started drawing it as a mental break, to start thinking about other ways of working, and when she looked at the finished drawing decided that it was interesting enough to reproduce as a relief. I can see how it would be rejuvenating to create the drawing, however, it is also interesting how she took a mental break but then applied the same level of intensity she applies to her other work in realizing it into a final piece. It took her three months of difficult carving to make and she could have easily used that time to create something more typical, with a ready-made market. I guess what I like the most about the piece is how it shows artistic integrity in her willingness to take chances and grow. She hasn't become complacent and content to make things that she knows will sell, rather, she is pushing herself, and her audience, to look at things differently.
Of Judy's more famous biomorphic work, this tiger table is the star of the show. The narrow legs, thin body, and graceful lines give it a delicate and animated feel, while the fierce head provide it a contrasting sense of danger.
Tiger Table
cast bronze
(I had to lift the image from the gallery website because I accidentally deleted my own)

The mouth seems perfectly shaped to fit a forearm, seemingly tempting the viewer to place one there and risk losing it. A perfect balance of beauty, danger, and temptation.
This ram bench has a very pre-Columbian feel. I think of it as a minimalist sculpture in the non-traditional sense, that is, Judy has somehow captured the essence of the ram with the minimal amount of material removed. It is good to see it still retains its original blocky nature, which, remarkably, seems to show respect to both the medium and the subject.
Ram Bench

This dog bench is another of my favorites. Classic JKM work in being both humorous and graceful.
Dog Bites Tail Table/Bench
cast bronze

Along the same lines is this Round Hound Table. It is a form she has played around with before, however, this one seems to have more movement and is more flowing. It makes me think of the Yin/Yang symbol but also reminds me of MC Escher's drawings, perhaps because of the symmetry.

With this Cherry Tree Chest (and I assume with the Abstract Headboard as well) Judy used a dead flat varnish so that the wood wouldn't darken and the grain pattern wouldn't distract from the design. I think it has more of a tropical look than I would expect for something made to represent a temperate forest tree but, as with her other representational pieces, her imagination is more important than the reality of the object.
Cherry Chest
carved basswood with maple casework

And yes, the draws are made with hand-cut dovetails.
There are quite a few snake pieces in the show, including these candle stick holders and bowls.
She says she likes to design with snake because they are just a line, allowing unlimited possibilities. They are also the non-venomous kind, more like garter snakes that are friendly bug eaters.
Snake Bowl (wood)

Snake Bowl
cast in bronze from the one above

I like this Monkey Cabinet and how it seems to borrow from Frank Stella's protractor series and
how this Ibex Cabinet seems to borrow from Van Gogh's technique of outlining figures.
Judy has included two more pieces from her "helping hands" series in the show. They are endearing works in that she is creating pieces that are just looking to be helpful, asking what they could do around the house that might be useful and then assigning themselves some otherwise menial task. In addition to the new vase and candlestick holders, previous shows have included helping hand bookends and a bowl. Although it is overt in these pieces, the same theme runs through most of her work. Her animals seem to be saying, "how can I help you?", "have a seat," "let me hold that for you," servants out of of graciousness rather than servitude.
Helping Hands Vase
cast bronze

Helping Hands Candlesticks
cast bronze

When I visited the show a week after the opening, this Duck Bowl had already sold out (she is selling 8 of her edition-ed work). There is something about the shape of the head and the fact that it is looking back that is captivating. It is elegant but also a little odd, just a little off, slightly confusing, that draws me to look at it longer.
Duck Bowl
cast bronze
The show also includes a series of animal plaques. My favorite are this frog and

this dog. I especially like how she has the tail become part of the border. It is so Egyptian-esque that I had to research what dog hieroglyphs look like and was surprised to find that Egyptian's drew much more realistic looking dogs than I would have imagined. You can find examples here and here. I think this one looks more like a lizard, which makes it more interesting.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

New Influence/Direction

After having seen Frank Stella's Irregular Polygons at Dartmouth's Hood Museum and listening to him talk a few days later, I decided my work would be more interesting if I escaped the tyranny of rectangularity.
Five Randomly Tapered Planks
(Update 2/4/11: I changed the name of this piece to
A Tear of Joy and Profound Admiration)
shellac on curly maple, curly yellow birch,
curly/bird's-eye yellow birch
approx. 47" x 42" x 1"

Having milled these five planks many months earlier, I was having trouble deciding on how to arrange them, but as soon as my mind opened to the idea of adding random angles to the work, it fell together much better. It seems like such a simple idea but it opens up a whole new realm of possibilities. It will be interesting to see where it leads.

Alternate Orientation
approx. 58" x 34" x 1"
In addition to the unique shape of this piece, the middle plank is particularly interesting in that it is made with bird's-eye yellow birch. I had no idea that such a thing existed (and didn't know I had bought it until after I put it through the jointer) but now that I know I'll take extra care to look for it at the lumber mill.

yellow birch bird's-eye closeup