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Gehard Demetz - Woodcarvings in Chelsea - and Other News  


As many of you might have noticed I am not a big fan of most modern art. The lack of craft leaves me cold and any emotion connection is beyond me. Sometimes, however, I am delighted to report there are exceptions.

My son (age 9), myself, a friend and her daughter (age 11) went to a play last Saturday in the early AM in Chelsea and after the play (it was a frabjus day) decided to wander the chelsea galleries.

The standout for the day - and it really was a standout, was a series of sculptures by Gehard Demetz at the Jack Shainman Gallery. About a dozen or so pieces that touched all of us. You immediately identify with the content of the pieces, which communicate in raw visual and sculpture power, not art-speak.

After the emotional jolt of the pieces wore off I did the art critic thing of deconstruction. The pieces are are real triumph of what happens when tradition carving bumps up against modern artistic impression. The faces of the carvings are technically perfect and very realistic. Demetz can actually carve. While the carvings are constructed with glued of blocks of basswood (lime) as is common with most large pieces, Demetz leaves off a lot of blocks. He doesn't truncate the blocks as in a low relief, he is very much carving in the round, but there is more to it. Maybe the best way of explaining this is "focus". The parts of the sculpture (like a photograph) that are important for the message of the sculpture to be transmitted are fully carved, (in focus) the parts that aren't important are either left out - the is blocks of basswood are omitted, or roughly carved. Just "out of focus", not left out. This isn't laziness, this isn't a lack of ability, this is a conscious decision. And it's real important. If he had carved the entire figure in total realism (like the faces are carved) it would be a triumph of craft, but less about the emotional state of the people. If Demetz just included busts, without any body, they would be disembodied and lose the context of being part of a person. By selectively leaving bits out our attention is focused and we get the full impact. In real life when a kid is crying we look at the crying eyes. We don't study the rest of the figure. In the photos and in the rest of the pieces in the show everything that would distract us from the anguish of the characters is left out. The crying girl's braids are just roughly carved. I thought this awesome as you get a very visceral impression of a kid with tight braids that are coming frazzled. The rough work on the rest of the bodies is also very expressive and there is an understanding here on how (realistic) sculptures can communicate with their audience. I was blown away, my friend was totally spooked out, and the kids liked it.

If you are a carver I really suggest you try to see the show before it closes or at least take a gander at the artists website. We can all learn something here about carving communication. I'm not suggesting that this is the way to go on everything but if you can understand why the communication works here it will inform what you do no matter what style you work in. It also proves that realistic sculpture can be a lot more than just a 3D photograph.

The Invocation
May 1 - May 31, 2014

Jack Shainman Gallery
513 West 20th Street
New York, NY 10011

In Other News

May 9 - May 20 is NYCxDESIGN, where designers from all over the city exhibit their work at various venues and events around the city. We were invited to join the celebration and have contributed an exhibit on saw-making at Industry City / Design. The exhibit is open most days and there lots of events locally to explore. Timothy Corbett, our designer, will be talking about tool design on May 13th from 2:30 - 3:30. Come join us and see all the exhibitions. Click here for a full schedule. I'll have more of a report next week.
Tags:Woodworking Tools and Techniques,Misc.
Comments: 3
05/07/2014Bob Easton

Very expressive and your critique makes sense.
05/07/2014Christopher J. Thomas
Thanks, Joel...
Have you looked into the carvings of David Esterly, Upstate New York?
He works in the tradition of Grindling Gibbons,London, 18th century. Exclusevly limewood (basswood).
Nearing completion on my sash saw handle- a small gift to myself for my 64th, Can't afford Paul McCartney!!!
Cheers, Christopher
PS, Joel, you're a real class act in my book!
I wrote about Esterly here - I'm a big fan.

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