Stickin' it to the man since 1927.
By Ashley Klann
The Schiltkamp Gallery at the Traina Center for the Arts saw the opening of its new exhibit, Wood Work, Wednesday, February 23rd. The exhibit features the work of ten artists and illustrates the incredible diversity of wood as a medium.
Despite the recent art theft from the exhibit prior to the opening, students, faculty, and three of the exhibit’s featured artists came out to celebrate the raw talent and material of Wood Work.
The exhibit calls on us to rethink concepts of what is natural and living, and shows the impressive creative possibilities that arise when the human imagination, brilliant craftsmanship, and natural materials come together. It also explores both the hindrances and the possibilities of wood, and the necessary collaboration of the artist with the material.
“Trees and their fruits have sheltered us, warmed us, fed us, and inspired us,” said Curator and Associate Professor of Art, Elli Crocker in her statement on the gallery. “[They are] connected to our survival in the most fundamental of ways, humans have always employed wood to create art… As an artistic medium, wood offers strength and pliability, elegance and rawness, commonness and preciousness.”
Wood Work is perhaps one of the most vivid and eye-catching exhibits to come to the Schiltkamp Gallery. Teal walls serve well to off set the warm, natural tones of the wood. Upon entering the gallery, Rob Millard-Mendez’s Marionette piece Cygnus Puppet jumps off of its strings and comes to life; the red devil string puppet offers no warm welcome with its rifle and daggers, but pulls viewers in out of sheer intrigue and awe.
Wood Work highlights the possibilities of wood as a naturally aesthetic thing. Many pieces in the exhibit work with the pre-existing lines, geometric patterns, and textures found in natural wood. Stephan Fowlkes’s Twain #5, a large cross section of birch tree rings, is another piece that immediately grabs the viewer’s attention and shows the intricate design naturally found in wood.
Andy Moerlein’s pieces in the gallery also strive for a more natural aesthetic while playing with the idea of artist/work collaboration. “I am an irrepressible materialist. The materials I use become what the work means. They speak to me. Materials manipulate me; I manipulate the materials,” he said. “I have to see through the density for the shape within. I think it’s innate. The human brain has a knack for that.”
Moerlein’s works Distilled, Fool’s Gold, and A Boat for an Impossible Journey all work in the same manner, showing the artist’s ability to manipulate the natural to build meaning. Moerlein’s work branches out, keeping it from being on one plane. “I couldn’t just stick it on a base and say, ‘Done.’ I had to keep going.”
He also discussed his process of spending days in the woods, studying the connection between the natural world and that of society. “Wood and the body are connected. They both have souls,” he said. Moerlein is very focused on telling that story – taking marvelous shapes from nature and moving them into his space. “Is it telling me what to do? Are we collaborating? It’s about combining the mass of a log into the delicacy of a line in the branch,” he said.
Like Moerlein’s pieces, Donna Dodson’s work displays her craftsmanship while still allowing for much of the wood’s natural qualities to show. Her four anthropomorphized female-figure totems show her interest in the connection between humans and animals. She also talked about her process, which begins with a log and chainsaw. “If there’s a crack that’s particularly bothersome, I fill it in with epoxy resin mixed with saw dust,” she said. “But I want the wood to have that natural, organic quality. It cracks. I’m not going to tell it not to crack. I don’t fight it.”
Other pieces in the gallery have gracefully transformed the original substance into a product that hardly resembles its original form, turning it into something polished, painted, and perfected. Bob Lewis was also at the opening to discuss his works in the gallery, Black, Pavilion of Poverty and Riches, and Temple of Memory.
He described the intricate process of wrapping the figures in Temple of Memory in layers of wire and nails. “I wanted to wrap them again and again, like a new skin. It was a way for me to draw the object. It was also meditative,” Lewis said. “You keep going until you’re satisfied. You keep going until you can say ‘I’m home.’”
“I love the look of history, but I’m a 21st century man wrapped in the future,” he said. Lewis’s pieces definitely display the artist’s esteem for antiquity. With elements of Classical architecture, statues, and perfectly-designed facades, it’s hard to imagine that Lewis gets a lot of his materials from dumpsters.
At times, one forgets that all the work in the gallery was initially more or less the same thing. Indeed, many unique and unexpectedly diverse pieces have come out of the woodwork in this exhibit.
“In an era when technology has altered the realm of art-making as much as everything else in our lives, these artists celebrate that most ancient and primal of raw materials – wood,” Crocker said. “While the material is the unifying theme, each artist creates unique forms that draw their inspiration from the inherent beauty, natural qualities, and enduring power of wood.”
According to a statement by University Police Chief Stephen Goulet, the unfortunate theft from the exhibit occurred late Friday afternoon on February 18th in the gallery space. The piece, Untitled, was on loan from artist Paul Bowen and was taken directly off the wall. Photos of this and more art from the show are published on page 14.
“It represents a betrayal of trust in the community and also a personal loss for me,” Bowen said in an email response about the theft. “One can speculate about the motive; the thief either liked the piece, hated it, took it on a prank, or thought they could sell it. We may never know.”
“The result will likely be that the gallery will have to take further security precautions in the future which will cost money, causing the gallery’s insurance rate to go up,” he said. “The community’s trust in itself has been damaged, and I have lost a sculpture – not good outcomes. I hope for all involved that it is returned.”
“It has been extremely disheartening, but shouldn’t take away from the power of the exhibit and the positive energy of the artists and members of the Clark community who put the show together,” Crocker said. “Artists display their work without being paid, out of a generosity of spirit. One would hope that this gift is honored.” She also added that the department is actively looking into increasing security within the gallery space which currently has no security cameras.
Amnesty is promised upon return of the stolen sculpture, and a $200 reward is being offered to anyone with any information leading to its retrieval.
Wood Work will be up until April 17, 2011 and will be closed March 5-13.