Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Belated Praise

Back in September, during the Burlington Art Hop, I came across these two great wood sculptures by Waterbury (Vermont) artist, Nori Morimoto, Volcano, made with bird's-eye maple and Wave, made with ash.
bird's-eye maple
With Volcano, he has created a landscape that is both natural looking and other-worldly. It reminds me of a moonscape or perhaps the surface of a distant planet. Bird's-eye maple was a good choice for this type of sculpture because the "eye's" really stand out, adding extra texture to the surface. I'm sure he sandblasted the surface to get the effect and, based on a similar piece on his website, I believe he ebonized the left side by burning it. The quality of the bird's-eye maple is exceptional. Any woodworker would have loved to have gotten a hold of it, so it is great that it wasn't turned into a boring piece of furniture.
Volcano (close-up)
I find Wave to be aesthetically interesting and technically confusing. I love the contrast between the light/dark and the waves/blocks; the randomness of how it alternates between waves, blocks, straight lines, and gaps;

that there are enough gaps on the right side to see the wood grain underneath; and the lack of fastidiousness, that imperfections are part of the art.
Wave (close-up front)
But what I guess I find most interesting is mystery of how he created the waves. I have one idea but I don't really think it would work and I'm torn between wanting to know and thinking it would be better to just be mystified.
Wave (close-up right)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Upstairs At The Renwick Gallery

Upstairs at the Renwick Gallery there is always more great work on view (which I visited after viewing A Revolution In Wood), some rotating, some on permanent display. My favorite of the permanent work is Wendell Castle's Ghost Clock (1985). The label says they acquired it in 1989 but the first time I noticed it was in the mid-90's (maybe '96 or '97?). It was placed between a couple of display rooms in a foyer-like space so it was particularly difficult to recognize as art. The only reason I noticed it was because the guard called me back after I past and told me to take a closer look at the label, which read simply, "bleached and stained mahogany." Still in disbelief at what I was seeing, he told me to look behind it (being placed in the center of the room, I was able to do this) and up from underneath to see a spot where the "sheet" and "clock" are connected. It has since been moved to a more recognizably art location, probably because the guard got tired of calling people back to take a closer look, and it now has its back to the wall so you can't get behind it, thus you'll have to take my word that there is a tiny spot (and only one tiny spot that you need to get on your hands and knees to see) where the deception is revealed. Update November 21, 2011: I was at the Renwick a couple of weeks ago and noticed it has since been moved back to the center of a room, so you can now inspect the entire piece to your hearts content.
The perfectly carved wrinkles, puckers, and dimples make it particularly deceptive. In addition, on past viewings I've felt that he somehow was able to sculpt the weave of the thread into the wood but on this last visit I finally realized that the open grain nature of mahogany creates the effect of giving it a thread count.
Also upstairs, as part of their rotating exhibit, was this piece by Christian Burchard, Basket Series (1997), made with madrone. He likes to collaborate with nature in creating his sculptures and these are a good example. It looks like he charred them to get a black interior. The brown exterior and the naturally warped surface gives them the look of leather and help the viewer to recognize that these objects came from a living thing.

It was interesting to see that Christian's piece was donated by John and Robyn Horn and across the room was this piece, Slashed Millstone (1996) made by Robyn Horn. She is in an elite group of collectors that are also great artists. I find her work interesting in a number of ways but in particular I like how she uses wood to create sculptures of stone. It is a little humorous really, but it also makes sense, you can't really make a sculpture of stone in stone without it being the object rather than the sculpture of the object, and other media (clay, metal, glass) would look too contrived or artificial. Wood, on the other hand, provides its own natural irregularities that mimic metamorphosed sediment. This piece is made with ebonized redwood burl.
It was also good to see Binh Pho's work. This piece, Journey to Destiny (2003), is made with oak, maple, gold leaf, acrylic paint, and dye. I saw a show of his work in one of his galleries over the summer and learned that he still works a full-time engineering job, which seems impossible given his level of art production and the intensity of his work. He must not need or want sleep.
And finally, there was this piece by Daniel Essig, Book of Nails II (2003), made with a virtual short story of materials -- mahogany, various metals, hand-made flax paper, velvet, linen thread, mica, trilobite, leather, paint, stains, and epoxy. It caught my eye because it reminds me of Janet Van Fleet's work with its use of nails and books. Too bad the museum has a case over the piece preventing visitors from handling it; the book would be interesting to close to see what it looks like with the nails surrounding the carcass and feeling their hard edges. It is very intriguing, a lot to look at, play with, and think about.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Sampling of the Bresler Collection

On a recent trip to Washington, D.C., I stopped into the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery to see A Revolution in Wood: The Bresler Collection. It is an exhibit of sixty-six world class turned and sculpted wood art pieces generously donated to the Smithsonian by Fleur and Charles Bresler.

This first piece is Table Bracelet (1997) by Michelle Holzapfel is made with birch, maple, cherry, and brass. It was created as part of a series in which she made jewelry for the home and included a seven by eleven foot wall mounted Spiral Necklace. I like both the humor of the concept and the scale. I guess all art can be seen as jewelry for the home but the overtness of this work makes the idea more clear. I also like how it humanizes in animate objects and helps you to see them as worthy of adornment. Why not buy jewelry for a table, or chair, or even a whole building?

David Ellsworth had a few great pieces in the exhibit, including Mo's Delight (1993), a beautiful futuristic spheroidal sculpture made with curly white oak (left) and Sundown Pot (1995), an equally beautiful but more minimalist turning made with curly maple (right).
His radically different piece, Patan (1991), was also in the exhibit. It is a naturally warped vase that has been charred and brightly painted. For what ever reason I expected this piece to be pretty small after having seen an image of it on a recent cover of AmericanStyle magazine, so I was surprised to find it is actually around 18" high.
Here is the backside. Nothing subtle about it and the exhibit text said that it caused a big uproar in the turning community -- a type of "Dylan goes electric" moment. As a lover of Dylan's electric work, I think this was done with equal success. Sometimes people just need to be shaken up a bit and unexpected art is a great way to do it.
This is Stoney Lamar's Self Portrait (1992), made with box elder, a wood that I love for its light color and streaks of pink and red. I don't know Stoney, so shouldn't guess as to how or why this is a self-portrait, but I gather from the piece that he is a little off-center with both rough and refined edges.
Edward Moulthrop's maple Donut Bowl (1990) seems to beg to be touched.
Mike Shuler's Satinwood Bowl #458 (1989) is made with satinwood, bloodwood, amaranth, and finished with a shellac french polish. I'm a little confused as to where or how the amaranth was used in the piece, whether as a seed or the fiber was somehow integrated.
Mark Sfirri's Rejections From The Bat Factory (1996), made with mahogany, cherry, curly maple, zebrawood, cocobolo, and lacewood, also display's a great sense of humor. He uses a multi-axis turning technique to make them. Conceptually, I understand what that means but the result is still magic.
This trompe l'oeil Petrified Sewing Basket (1995) was made with cherry, wenge, and imbuia by Lincoln Seitzman. The piece makes me wonder what drew him to making a basket out of wood or why he thought he could do it. The result is a remarkable "reproduction" of the woven inspiration.
Galen Carpenter made this unique vase, 96-4 (1996), with cristobal and chipboard. It is interesting how he combined a rare and luxurious tropical wood with a very common, inexpensive, construction material to create an unexpectedly elegant piece. The chipboard gives it a painterly effect that seems much closer to a glazed piece of pottery than a wood turning.
Bud Latven's Integration (1992) is made with maple and African blackwood. It is interesting to see one of his early pieces which gives some perspective and hint of the direction he would take in making his absolutely insane current work.
Norm Sartorius is famous for his unusual art spoons and there were four of them in this exhibit. The three that I was able to get good images of are Mutation (1999), made with Mexican blue oak burl (bottom left), Obsession (1998), made with maple (top left); and Spear Spoon (1997), made with African blackwood (right).
I had no idea that there was a whole craft/sculpture sub-genre of art spoons until I read Norm's article on Norman Steven's spoon collection in Forum (July 2010), the Collectors of Wood Art newsletter. It is very much like the craft/sculpture sub-genre of art teapots. In both cases artists use a functional object as a starting point to create objects of beauty that only vaguely reference their conceptual origins. These are endearing small sculptures, allowing something elegant to be created out of small pieces of wood that would likely not otherwise have a use, other than for its BTU value.

The exhibit will be on view until January 30, 2011 and is very much worth the full viewing if you are in the Washington, DC area. However, regardless of when you may be in DC, the Renwick Gallery is always worth a visit. It is my favorite museum and they always have great work rotating through their permanent collection on the second floor. Below is a video made by the Smithsonian to give an overview and background of the collection. The best line is at the beginning when Fleur says that "You get a flutter in your heart, and when you get it you'd better buy the piece because you're gonna dream about it." Yes, don't argue with your response to art, just buy it!