Wednesday, March 24, 2010

North Bennet Street Benefit Show Full of Surprises

I stopped by Gallery NAGA last week after setting up for the Paradise City - Marlborough show in order to see For North Bennet Street, a benefit exhibition of studio furniture makers in which 50% of the sale price goes to the North Bennet Street School, Boston's 125 year old traditional craft school with prestigious programs in furniture making, bookbinding, violin making, among others.

One would think that it would be hard to attract top quality talent for a show in which the artist only gets 25% of the sale price but this show is really a great mix of high quality work from both superstars in the studio furniture world and up-and-comers. Although Gallery NAGA selected the artists and pulled together the show, a good portion of the credit for the quality has to go to the schools executive director, Miguel Gómez-Ibáñez, whose personal relationships with with many of the artists surely influenced their decisions to participate. Here is a list of participating artists:

Garry Knox Bennett
Dale Broholm
Jon Brooks
John Eric Byers
Mark Del Guidice
John Dunnigan
Ben Fleis
Hank Gilpin
Miguel Gomez-Ibanez
Thomas Hucker
Silas Kopf
John Marcoux
Judy Kensley McKie
Bart Niswonger
Jere Osgood
Todd Partridge
Timothy Philbrick
Mitch Ryerson
James Schriber
Tommy Simpson
Rosanne Somerson
Jay Stranger
J.M. Syron and Bonnie Bishoff
Tim Wells
Steve Whittlesey
Lothar Windels
Rick Wrigley

Of all the pieces in the show, my favorite is Bart Niswonger's Green Cabinet made with ash, cast urethane, and paint. It shouldn't be surprising to see original work in a show of such talented artists, but this piece is really something different. Although I really liked it when I first saw it, it left me a little confused. I didn't realize that the ash he had carved for the panels was just used as a mold for the urethane.
When the gallery director, Meg White, showed me that the panels were pure urethane, I liked it even more. On the doors and top he used the flat side of the cast on the outside, on the side panels the carved side is facing out. Ash was an excellent choice for making the mold because the grain pores are so open that it leaves a very visible grain pattern in the cast, thus the confusion on whether the doors are made of wood.

Beyond the originality of using wood as a panel mold, the patterns he carved play with the grain pattern but are not tied to it. The piece is an interesting contrast between the natural and synthetic that I felt worked really well.

Another pleasant surprise of the show is this Back of the Big House Table by Dale Broholm. I was absolutely fascinated by the simple beauty of the vertical grain fir he used for the table top.

It is hard to capture with a camera, but trust me, it is amazing.
Here is a close-up. I initially thought the top was quarter sawn ash but I checked with Dale and he corrected me. Still, this top inspires me to look for or mill myself some quarter sawn ash as well as vertical grain fir.

Another surprise of the show was seeing this table by Rosanne Somerson. From the image that the gallery used for their publicity (below) I thought it was typical coffee table size, but on entering the gallery and seeing the real thing, I found that the title, Small Table With Leaves, was really meant to emphasize the word small.
The real thing was much more unusual and powerful than I realized. In the way that a whisper demands quite to be heard, the small scale of this piece demands your attention.

17" x 15" x 15" (keys added for scale)
white oak and limestone

I also loved this table by Jon Brooks.
The curl on this table top is amazingly tight. It looks more like a wood grain print over textile than wood.
And the most fascinating thing about it is the underside. How often do you see a table that is at least as interesting to look at from underneath as from above? This piece, Citron Altar, was on loan from the collection of Mark and Juliana Phillips because Jon's entire studio, much of his personal collection of his work (including the piece he had made for this show), all his equipment, and a 40 year collection of special lumber, were tragically lost in a fire a couple of months ago. For more information, and any donations you would like to make to help him rebuild, check his site here.

Another surprise is this Scotch and a Cigar - Drink Cabinet by Ben Fleis which just gives a hint of its contents through the partial screen cabinet door.

Made with Swiss pear but also including 18 year old Glenlivet Scotch, two sipping glasses, and two Cuban cigars, the $2400 price seems more than reasonable.

I was also drawn to this off-the-wall small table, Trien, by John Marcoux, made with bass wood rulers, wing-nuts, and paint. It is a pleasant and jarring contrast to the fine furniture in the rest of the show, a little wake-up call to relax and just enjoy.
And finally, I found myself oddly drawn to these chairs by Lothar Windels. They are very austere and simple yet still well crafted. Very utilitarian but still unique. They simultaneously look like they were caringly constructed but could also be made a million more times. The contrasts make them hard to overlook.
With so many great artists in a show like this it is hard to do it justice and cover a fair percentage of it but these are the pieces that stood out the most for me. It is great to see studio furniture makers getting the attention they deserve and see the community supporting each other in making such a significant contribution to North Bennet Street School.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

New Work, New Directions

In getting ready for three shows in the next couple of months I've been busy creating more new work to bring with me. Here are the images and discussion:

This first one is the second of my wedge series, the first one is here, and pre-painted earlier version of this one is here.
Fear Not, Fall Not
shellac on curly maple and cherry
28" x 32" x 4"

side view

In looking at the images, I'm real satisfied with how it came out. I find it hard to look at a piece after working on it for months and seeing it with fresh eyes. Somehow images give me the distance to be able to evaluate the work. For instance, I knew that the sections were book-matched but I couldn't remember or see which were the matching sections. Now, looking at the image, I can see not only the match, but that the off-set lines them up perfectly. I don't remember ever thinking of lining them up -- it might have been an accident -- but I'm happy with the results.

The piece isn't that large but it is substantial. I don't have a scale but I'm guessing that it weighs 45 to 50 pounds (judging by my feeling that it weighs less than my 62 lb air compressor). I'm a little worried about it taking down my plywood walls at a show but I think if I place it on the back wall on the left or right side I'll avoid that disaster.

The over-lay piece I have been struggling with for a while (discussed here and here) is also finished. The title, No Apology Necessary, is a reference to my earlier discussion of being influenced by George Nakashima and being able to keep the live-edge on the final piece.

No Apology Necessary
shellac on curly maple, cherry, and walnut
48" x 26" x 1"

This next piece also went through a major change. Earlier images are here and here. I decided I didn't like the clear epoxy in the middle so I cut it in half and glued it together side by side. I think this version is much better than the original idea and, thankfully, I don't have to worry about the back-lighting issue any more.
Time Float
shellac on bird's-eye maple, cherry, and epoxy
29" x 24" x 1"

And I finally finished the second of my flag series after many iterations on the blue section. Just before finishing it I was ready to completely start over but, as I removed a little of the shellac I thought it suddenly came together and made sense, so I stopped and just polished it. I like how, from the time I started, the movement in the wood caused the bird's-eyes to protrude slightly so that when I removed some of the color they suddenly came out as white stars on a blue night-like background. It made me think of Van Gogh's famous painting, hence the title.
Starry Night Flag
shellac on bird's-eye maple, curly maple, and cherry
26.5" x 26.5" x 1"

In the quest to explore work in a completely different direction, I started a series of shellac paintings that are just about shellac, and aren't sculptural or have anything to do with wood. Having recently acquired a large stash of 3/4" baltic birch plywood, I decided it was time to experiment. With this first piece, I treated the plywood as I had solid wood, building clear shellac on the surface before adding color, but then realized that I didn't like the grain pattern coming through.
Untitled First Shellac Painting
shellac on board
18" x 24"

So, for the second painting, to get ride of the wood altogether, I gesso'ed the plywood before painting it. I know it is more than a little ironic that someone who is so focused on wood would try to get rid of the look but I don't see any reason to be dogmatic about art. I think shellac can create some real interesting effects, different than one can get with any other type of paint, so I feel it is important to explore what can be done with it.
Three Blue Stripes (2010)
shellac on board
12" x 26"
Because I have an earlier piece with the same title, I added the date.

With the third one the design got a little more complicated. I struggled with it for a while but felt it came together when I added the black.
Six Red Squares
shellac on board
19" x 25"
One of my hopes with doing these paintings was that it would be easier and faster than the sculptural paintings on wood I've been doing. Unfortunately for me, it didn't seem to be any faster, rather, I seemed to be exchanging one set of challenges for another. Still, I think the effect is interesting and worth exploring. It opens up a lot of possibilities that I don't have with the wood work.

In another direction, I started another series of ribbon sculptures. Since selling a couple of them at the last show in the fall, I had wanted to make some more, so, figuring the I could now justify the expense of buying a big hunk of cherry, I bought an 8' x 8" x 3" board on my last visit to the lumber mill. I was looking for a 4" board but the guy at the mill said he hadn't seen anything that thick in more than a decade and even getting 3" thick boards is getting tough to find. I could probably find a 4" board if I go to a lot of effort but luckily my neighbor cut down a butternut tree over the summer that I was able to buy and mill myself (after using Inca-like ingenuity to move and lift it into my truck, solo). Now I have several big hunks up to 8" thick that I'm air drying. In four to eight years it should be ready to work.

Cherry Ribbon (2010)
42" x 8" x 3"

Lastly, in making these ribbon sculptures, I'm left with a negative half that I like to make vases with, good for dried flowers. Because I feel it is more craft than fine art, I don't plan on adding it to my portfolio and just photographed it myself. It can hang on a wall or sit on a table/credenza/shelf.
Cherry Vase
8" x 37" x 2.5"