Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Buy This Magazine

The 2012 issue of Woodwork (magazine) has been out since the end of November and, if you haven't yet pick up your copy, I highly recommend you do it soon.  Unfortunately, you'll have to find a pretty good newsstand to find it, I picked mine up at Barnes and Noble, airports are probably also a good bet as well as some woodworking tool stores. If you can't find a newsstand with it, it is still worth ordering directly from their publisher, which I did last year because, even at an additional $8 for shipping, it was still cheaper than making a special trip to Burlington.

Would that it came out more than once a year, as it used to, but I know to at least be thankful that it is still being published. Thankfully, this issue has a dearth of "how to" articles. As far as I'm concerned, the step by step instructions of building someone else's design that are typical mainstays of woodworking magazines are really boring -- I always skip them. Instead, Woodwork focuses on wood artist profiles, thoughts, and history, as well as inspirational and enthralling photos of contemporary wood art from various shows around the country. 

As a yearly publication, it probably isn't the best venue for serial story telling but, interestingly, Toshio Odate is doing just that with his fascinating story about "Mighty Oak," a tree with an almost six foot diameter trunk. Last year he explained how he came upon and transported it to his property; this year is he covers the process of cutting a six inch slab from its center. I'm guessing that next year we'll learn how he turned it into a magnificent table. It is unfortunate that we need to wait years to learn the whole process but, nonetheless, I love the story and learning about how he translates his deep respect for the tree into his art.  

Also, as a semi-continuation from last year is another thoughtful essay by Mark Love. Last year his piece titled Risk discussed how the potential for making a mistake, and losing hours of work, makes furniture making more interesting; this year, in his essay titled Temporary, he talks about how finding an old and forgotten brick mosaic in his backyard related to his career path and the quality of work he now makes. 

There are several artist profiles that provide great lessons in perseverance for aspiring artists. Of particular interest is Terry Martin's piece on Todd Hoyer because it is more than biography -- it gives his work context by showing how his biography has been reflected in his sculpture.

I also found the Katherine Adams piece on Christy Oates's furniture fascinating because it provides in depth insight into her process and methods. For instance, it is interesting to learn that her love of origami and her practical need to furnish a small apartment inspired her ingenious wallpaper furniture (a recent acquisition by the Smithsonian Museum of American Art).

Several articles also provide historical stories that help to give context to contemporary furniture; for example, Peter Korn's discussion about the influences of Alan Peter's designs on his own work; the article by Caroline Hannah and Mark Sfirri on Henry Varnum Poor and his close relationship with Wharton Esherick; and Tom Casper's discussion of Henry Lapp's19th century sketchbook.

Overall, the magazine is a well written, full of beautiful images, and educational. It provides a valuable resource for learning both about contemporary wood art, and the artists behind the work, as well as historical information that enriches our understanding of current work. I believe it is well worth buying, even if you don't associate yourself with woodwork, because it provides valuable insight for anyone interested in art in general. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Asheville Trip Part III - Blue Spiral 1

The third wood art show that I saw in Asheville back in August was Wood Moving Forward at Blue Spiral 1, a beautiful gallery representing southern artists in a sprawling 15,000 square foot, three level space. This show was the most diverse in styles and scale of the three I saw on that day.

Bob Trotman had three larger than life busts of some very emotionally tortured individuals. This piece, Double Portrait of John, was my favorite. I had thought that the cutout sections might be draws so I asked at the desk and they were kind enough to demonstrate that the face could be changed.
Double Portrait of John
wood, tempera, wax, steel
Bob Trotman
By pulling out the large pin in the top of John's head (on the right side below), the eyes and mouth can be flipped. Interestingly, he actually looks more tense with his eyes closed. I like how the metal brace above his eye holds his head together, both physically and conceptually.
Double Portrait of John (alternate arrangement)
Here is the backside of Double Portrait.
Double Portrait of John (backside)
This second piece is also a "John" and I think it is a portrait of the same person on an even more stressful day.
wood, tempera, wax
Bob Trotman
This third piece, Jane, looks to me like she is being sucked into the earth but I also get the feeling she might be begging to be "taken with" during the rapture. As with Double Portrait, he has allowed the cracking in the wood to become an element of the piece, reflecting his subject's imperfections.
wood, tempera, wax, steel
Bob Trotman
I feel like I have spent an excessive amount of time thinking about this next piece, bmn508, by Hunt Clark. If it weren't in the show, I would have posted this review long ago. Amazingly, it seems to be carved from a single block of wood. In addition to the remarkable carving of consistently thin walls all along the irregular shape, I am mesmerized by whatever technique he used to create this piece without significant cracking, splitting, and warping of the lumber. I also find it fascinating how he made it look both natural and perfectly machined -- as if he extruded the wood through a metal die and he simply twisted the wood like it was clay. Further, his abrupt ninety degree turns with such delicate walls seem like they should have broken apart long ago. The whole thing just seems to be pure magic. On one level, I would like to know how he did it, and maybe even watch the process, but on another level, it is nice to know that magic is still possible and that maybe it is better left as a mystery.
Hunt Clark
As for the form that he has created, I find it interesting that he seems to be referencing traditional craft objects -- spoons, bowls, ladles -- but that they become twisted into something that is non-functional contemporary sculpture. As I always like to see functional objects turned into sculpture and this is just one more reason for me to like this piece.
bmn508 (second view)
Norm Sartorius also had several pieces in the show that do the same thing, turn craft into sculpture, but with very different technique, style, and scale. Although his "spoons" are clearly not intended to be used, they are created in the same scale as actual spoons, so in that way, they are paying homage to the craft of spoon making as much as they show respect for the trees that they are carved from.
The Emigrant
Afzelia lay
Norm Sartorius
Surprisingly, I find that the more I look at Sylvie Rosenthal's Journey to an Empty City, the more I think about (and try to remember) Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude because I feel it somehow captures the same kind of magical realism he captured (actually, the only thing I can remember from the story is that someone is carried away by ants, but I do remember the feeling of the book and I think this is it). One reason being that this piece seems to be telling a story, but it is a very fanciful story in which a city pops out of the middle of a ram like a picture in a pop-up book. Another being the contrast between the realistically carved ram and the construction of the city that is simultaneously haphazard and well crafted. Taken together, there seems to be both magic and realism. For me, the best part of the piece, though, is how it inspires the viewer to create a story around such a bizarre arrangement.
Journey to an Empty City
basswood, poplar, paint, mixed media
Sylvie Rosenthal
Robyn Horn's Spacial Disturbance is another interesting elaboration on her theme of creating the illusion of fractures and construction out of a single block of wood. I wish I had noticed that the materials included "ink" while I was in front of the piece so I could have looked more carefully at the edges. I assume that she used it to accentuate the "divide" between sections.
Spatial Disturbance
fiddleback maple, ink
Robyn Horn
The shadows she creates with her carvings emphasize the illusion of fractures and assemblage to the point that I'm not sure she needed to highlight it with ink but I'd need a closer look to see if that is what she did (I don't seem to be able to find any ink in the images). One interesting aspect of her design is how the linear carvings contrasts the natural curves in grain patterns. The lovely worm holes in this piece also help to accentuate the dichotomy between the natural material and the machine-like design.
Spatial Disturbance (close-up)
The only furniture piece in the show was this table, Glacier Point, by Gail Fredell. It was interesting seeing this piece after recently seeing her Bricklayer's Quartet at the Fuller Craft Museum. Both have the same distinctive style, but as I look at this one and remembering her other one, I think I'd really hate to put anything on either of them. Yes, they are technically tables, but their function seems to clash with their elegance. I think that people should be okay with buying tables that just meant for looking.
Glacier Point
cherry, painted soft maple, steel
Gail Fredell
And finally, I love the subtle humor and originality of Robert Lyons' turnings with pencils.
Getting to the Point
ash, pencils
Robert Lyons
I also appreciate how he takes an otherwise functional object and combines it with an everyday object to create pure sculpture.
The Mind Has An Eraser
basswood, pencils with erasers
Robert Lyons
After leaving Blue Spiral 1 it was too late to do anything but drink, however, while wondering over to a bar, my chauffeuse and I must have passed another ten galleries; and then, on the way to dinner, we must have past another ten. Clearly, there was way more art in this town than I expected. Although I limit my art writing to wood art, my aesthetic preferences are not at all limited by medium, so I was disappointed that I didn't get a chance to wonder through some more venues. Now I know, in scheduling future trips to Asheville, I need to allot more than a single afternoon for art.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Beyond Good and Bad

Typically, when I make a piece or even when I'm looking at art, I'm always thinking, "Is it good? Do I like it? Why? What is good or bad about it?" I feel a constant process of judgement and evaluation. With my own work, I'm also often thinking whether other people will like it and whether I can sell it. With this new piece, What Is, I had the same thoughts for months. I had roughed out the piece back in March and had it hanging for six months while I ruminated about what my next steps should be.
What Is
shellac on blistered maple
31" x 48" x 1"
October 2011

©Robert Hitzig

My primary question was what to do with the small live edge remaining at the bottom after I had camfer-ed most of it away. In the end I decided to leave it as is because I really didn't like any of the dozens of solutions I came up with, or that were suggested to me.
What Is (closeup)
So I went ahead an painted it with red, yellow, and blue underneath many, many coats of black, as I had originally planned, all the time wondering if the piece was any good or if I was doing anything useful. However, as I approached the end, the point where I felt there was nothing more to do, and as I hung the final piece, I decided that this piece is really beyond judgement. At this point, a declaration of "good" or "bad" is beside the point. I really don't know and, truthfully, I really don't care either. I've take the idea as far as I can, done what needs to be done, and it is what it is. All I can do is accept it and move on. Maybe somebody will like it, maybe someone might even want to buy it, but I really don't expect anything more then it becoming a permanent part of my personal collection.

By the way, I recently bought a used Nikon digital SLR, the D70, and I took these images myself. Because I don't really know what I'm doing, the above images seem too light relative to the actual piece, it is really much more black than purple. Below is another image taken with less light that is closer but probably too dark. Normally, I would care more about the accuracy of the colors but with this piece I don't believe any image would be all that useful any way. My experience with seeing images of black paintings and then seeing the actual piece is that they are generally too subtle to capture in images and this one isn't an exception -- you'll just have to see it in person. Conveniently, it will be on display during the month of December at the Helen Day Art Center in Stowe, VT.
What Is (normal lighting, normal wall view)
Addendum 1/3/2012: I figured out the key to capturing the correct color is to use lights that have the correct color, which I did with the image below, but now I notice that this latest image doesn't capture the figure in the wood that you can see above. I guess my technique still needs work. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Celebration: A Ten-Legged Decagon

I just finished and installed a new public sculpture for a two year exhibit in front of the Vermont Arts Council here in Montpelier. It is made with northern white cedar so it will soon have a consistent gray patina over the surface and it won't need any treatment to prevent rot for many years to come.
cedar and metal hardware
47" x 152" x 152"
Robert Hitzig
Because I can't draw worth-a-darn, I made a model to get approval from the Arts Council. I had hoped that a five-legged decagon would work, but
when I compared this image with the ten-legged version, I realized that five legs just didn't have much of an impact.
I had also thought that when I installed it, I would arrange some of the legs upside-down or going in a different direction, but I found that wasn't a good idea either. Luckily, the legs are bolted into place and it is very easy to play around with different configuration to find what works best.
The opening reception for the exhibit is Friday, October 7 during the Montpelier Art Walk. Unfortunately, I won't be able to attend since I will be in Northampton, MA for the Paradise City Arts Festival. Anyone wishing to see the piece in person can find it on State St, just west of the State House, until late summer 2013.

Update October 5, 2011: I was a bit too quick in putting this post up. It turns out that the installation of this piece in the front of the Arts Council conflicted too much with other sculptures already there so I needed to move it to a tree in the back of the building. It won't get as many viewers but I think it still looks good and it is great to be included in the exhibit regardless of the tree it circles.
cedar and metal hardware
47" x 152" x 152"
Robert Hitzig

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Exceptional Wood Art @ Art Hop

This year's Art Hop in Burlington, VT was another successful event, perhaps the best yet. I'm amazed that in a such a small state, someone can organize an art event that includes well over 500 artists, over 100 studios and make-shift galleries, and draw tens of thousands art enthusiasts. I also love how it seems to be such a Vermont-ish event in that it is so egalitarian, everyone one is welcome and can find a space to display work. And artist of all levels do, successful professional artists can be seen right next to novices (many of whom are also very good). You know you won't like everything, in fact, you might not like most of what you see, but you never know what to expect and there are so many surprising gems, works by artists you've never heard of, that it is worth it to endure the marathon march it takes to see a majority of the work (seeing everything is not realistic for normal human beings).

I started on Friday, September 9, at 2:30 (two hours before the start) and finished at 10:00 and still hadn't seen close to everything but, coincidentally, I found the best wood art at both the beginning and end (I returned on Saturday and looked for a couple more hours but still didn't get to every venue, although, I have to admit, seeing all the venues would be infinitely easier if I didn't know anybody).

One of my first stops was Select Design, a brand development company, which always has high quality work in their space. I hadn't checked the show guide because it is too overwhelming to look through so I was completely surprised and very pleased to find that BigTown Gallery, of Rochester, VT, was exhibiting a number of their artists there, including Hugh Townley and Duncan Johnson.
cedar threaded on metal
Hugh Townley
Mrs. Crowlady
mahogany on painted base
Hugh Townley
I had previously seen this piece, A Brief History of Haley's Comet, at Hugh's retrospective show at the Fleming Museum a couple of years ago but this viewing gave me a chance to look at it more closely and seen how he constructed it. There are a lot of things I like about this piece, but what I really love is the wormy mahogany at the bottom which I assume plays the role of stars in this composition. The holes are so large that they look like they were drilled out but the lack of tear out along with some horizontal borings make me think that it could only have been done by some very large bugs.
A Brief History of Haley's Comet
mahogany relief
Hugh Townley
There was also this plywood tondo that seems to be some kind of hieroglyphic story which I find indecipherable but I like the contrast between the commonness of the material and the fine craft that was used to construct it. (my image of this piece isn't great because of the lighting but you can view a professional version here).
Tondo 8
plywood relief
Hugh Townley
With Michigan Avenue, it again seems that Hugh is telling a story that I can't decipher, but from the title I can hazard a guess it has something to do with a trip to Chicago.(Again, my image isn't great but you can find a better one here.)
Michigan Avenue
plywood relief
Hugh Townley

Like Hugh, Duncan Johnson's paintings combine inexpensive (actually free) materials with fine craft. As I mentioned in a previous post, Duncan finds discarded wood at his local landfill or nearby construction sites.

What I love most about his work is looking at the wonderful colors people have used in their homes and how it generates so many questions. I wish they all came with a story -- the history of the house, the painter, where the color was used, the families that selected or lived with it -- but with a complete lack of information, my mind is left to wonder/wander all on its own. The colors in this one, Pilot House, I find exceptional, the range of blues, the pink, peach, reds, and then that one lime/yellow below the pink and green blue -- it seems like it was destined for art because I can't believe it ever made any sense inside or outside a house.
Pilot House
found wood, nails, and graphite
Duncan Johnson
Duncan also uses a lot of different size nails in his pieces, meticulously placed along vertical and diagonal lines. There are many more nails than could conceivably be needed to hold the piece together so that they become a form of decoration, bejeweling the wood. By using a range in sizes (I believe including 17, 18, 20, 21 and 23 gauge) they have the effect of giving the pieces a starry quality, especially on a darker piece like this one.
Shepards Gate
found wood, nails, and graphite
Duncan Johnson
With Winter's Weight, and a number of his other paintings, there is an interesting play between background colors and the dynamic, surprising ones. I find that my eyes spend a lot of time on specific colors, jumping around looking for the ones I like best. In this one, I really focus on the pinks and blues. (I had to photograph this one from an angle because of a barrier, you can see a professional image on Duncan's website here.)
Winter's Weight
found wood, nails, and graphite
Duncan Johnson
Filter Fall is a newer piece in which he didn't use any nails (a profession image of this piece is here.)
Filter Fall
found wood
Duncan Johnson
There were also a number of furniture artists in the same show. Lars Larsen and Rolf Kielman, a studio furniture maker and architect team, displayed a few of their production prototypes, with models of the design process, first with paper, then cardboard, then plywood. There chair and table are supposed to assemble without any hardware and can be shipped flat. Very elegant and economical designs.
Lars Larsen and Rolf Kielman
Lars Larsen and Rolf Kielman
When I first saw this display from Modern Vermont, I thought the plywood sheet behind the chairs was the art and was actually a little disappointed to realize it was the CNC cutouts for the chairs in the front of the display. Again, a very economical design that is jazzed up with the colorful side panels.
Lincoln Brown
Modern Vermont
In stark contrast to the production furniture on display, there was also this intelligently minimalist hand-made curly birch table by Eyrich Stauffer.
curly birch
Eyrich Stauffer
My final stop of the night was RL Photo, where I found Clark Derbes' wonderful wood sculptures. He doesn't use any expensive equipment or elaborate techniques to make them. They are intentionally primitive in their construction (his primary tool is a chain saw) which may result in casual observers overlooking their playful sophistication.
Time Traveler
wood and paint
Clark Derbes
I needed to include a lot of images of each piece because one would be pointless. You really need to see them from multiple angles to get a sense of what is going on.
Time Traveler
wood and paint
Clark Derbes
This sculpture, Time Traveler, has twelve sides, cut at random angles, that, along with the recurring geometric paintings, results in an optical effect that dramatically changes the piece as the viewer moves around it. It actually seems to jump between two and three dimensions, and, unlike most sculpture, it gives a sense of being a completely different work when looked at from even a slightly different angle.
Time Traveler
wood and paint
Clark Derbes
In addition to being optically surprising, the primitive nature of their construction adds to their playfulness.
The Three R's
wood and paint
Clark Derbes
Although cleaned up a bit with a palm sander, the chainsaw leaves deep gouges and, to ensure an informality, he rubs dirt in them between coats of paint. The effect is to make them approachable and joyful.
The Three R's
wood and paint
Clark Derbes
Standing Room (left) and Elbow Room (right)
wood and paint
Clark Derbes
Standing Room (left) and Elbow Room (right)
wood and paint
Clark Derbes
Clark's unpainted Solid Box could probably be mistaken for a bench but given the amount of fun and informality that he imbues in his work, I'd guess that he wouldn't mind if it were used that way. Being that it is made of ash, I doubt you would hurt it and he'd probably like the effects wear would have on the wood (not that I'm recommending you sit on it, I'm a firm believer in the policy of always asking before touching the art).
Solid Box
Clark Derbes
Solid Box
Clark Derbes
This final piece, Hollow Red Form 2011, doesn't create the same optical effects as the others but it is also clearly made with a playful spirit. It makes me think of a child's toy, but not one of those boringly perfect factory-made toys, rather something constructed by a child in a time when imagination and spirit was all that was need to have fun.
Hollow Red Form 2011
carved and polychrome pine
Clark Derbes
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get this post up early enough to encourage people to make it to this year's Art Hop (most of the work comes down at the end of September) but I strongly recommend it as a future destination. It is a truly great art event in being so open and welcoming to all kinds of people whatever their level of art sophistication or financial means. Anyone, from a child with a tooth fairy's bank roll to a serious collector with a corporate credit card, can find art that they can afford and appreciate for a lifetime.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Asheville Trip Part II - Grovewood Gallery

On my second stop during my recent Asheville trip, I went to the Grovewood Gallery where they were having A Wood Collector's Home show, featuring nineteen top wood artists from across North America, July 1 to October 2. Although there were a number of artists in this show whose work I saw at the Arboretum show, amazingly, there were a few phenomenal woodturners whose work were only in this show (maybe because they weren't AAW members). As a result I was a little overwhelmed and somewhat jaded by the quality of work by this point so, in looking back at the gallery's website, I can see that I skipped over and didn't photograph work that I would have otherwise covered.

Malcolm Tibbetts is one of the amazing artists I hadn't previously seen. He creates segmented woodturnings but, unlike anyone else's work I've seen, he must assemble, turn, cut, and reassemble multiple times to create these objects. It hurts my head trying to figure out how he did it. They are very confusing puzzles that must require some very elaborate clamping jigs to create. Check out his website to see more amazing work -- he even talks a little about how he made some of the pieces, but, not being a wood turner, it just confused me even more. His two pieces in this show are The Wheel on the Bus and

The Wheel on the Bus
myrtlewood and mesquite on granite base
Malcolm Tibbetts
this intestinally inspired(?) work, Perpetuity.
carob on granite base
Malcolm Tibbetts
Another segmented woodturner in the show, who I hadn't seen before, is Curt Theobald. He had several of these elegantly turned and sculpted "eggs" on display, giving a modern twist on an ancient form.
laminated and dyed birch, pernambuco, gold leaf, silverleaf
Curt Theobald
And there is Ray Feltz, a third segmented woodturner, who creates these breathtaking life-size eggs with thousands of matchstick-sized segments. His website includes images of his process here if you want to get an idea of how he does it.
Large Ribbon Egg
3816 pieces of blood wood, yellow heart, holly, and tulip wood
Ray Feltz
Small Ribbon Egg
3960 pieces of pink ivory, blood wood, holly, walnut, and lacewood
Ray Feltz
Also in this show was this piece by Stephen Hatcher. The design reminds me of skate eggs, which seem to find their way into a lot of art that I see, to the point that I see them even when their not there. Are these shapes skate egg inspired? I don't know but I like it either way.

Celestial Spheres
maple with translucent crystal mineral inlay, metal acid dyes, lacquer
Stephen Hatcher
Binh Pho's had a delicate vase in this show. I like how the natural red color in the box alder blends with the red paint he used, making it unclear whether the color is natural or painted. On a recent trip to Cleveland I saw one of Binh's cast glass pieces that he made from a piece like this. With all the negative space in one of these vases it doesn't seem possible that it could be cast in glass but I guess what makes great artists great is not being limited by what seems possible because I was told that he spent three years developing a technique to do it.
box alder and acrylic paint
Binh Pho

Nightingales (closeup)
I also ran across a couple of more pieces by Darrell Copeland. I particularly like the addition of a second color and form into this piece relative to the piece I saw at the arboretum. It makes me think that this one is more recent.
Harvest Moon II
cherry and acrylic paint
Darrell Copeland

And another piece by Christian Burchard. The title refers to the area of north Africa west of Egypt, which is new information for me. Perhaps he was thinking that the piece reminded him of wind swept sand dunes but this series always makes me think of flesh. They always feels very personal and very human while at the same time letting the wood be what it is in its most raw form. I find them very mystical in how they draw a visceral connection between people and trees.
Towards the Maghreb
bleached madrone burl
Christian Burchard
And finally, there where two great fish sculptures by Daniel Essig. This first one, a Gar, was in the show but the truly amazing one
mahogany, maple, mica, milk paint, handmade flax paper, tin, 19th Century books, fossils, shells, bones, insect wings, Coptic and Ethiopian binding
was upstairs in their furniture gallery. I love this learned and wise sturgeon, decorated with miniature hand made books (and you can lift them out of their mortises(?) to open them), sculpted old book page fins, and tons of other historical object it carries along. This species seems to play well with the themes of Daniel's work in that it is so ancient looking, seemingly unchanged for the 200 million years of their existence, much like his use of book-binding techniques that were developed at the beginning of the practice.
carved and painted mahogany, handmade books, mixed media
And note the skate eggs floating below. Though I liked his piece I saw in the Renwick last year, this one seems to me to be more museum worthy. Hopefully, the right collector will make a generous contribution and, hopefully, the museum will find a way to let visitors open the books.