Change is a fundamental aspect of art. Arguably, one could say that in order to create art at all, a change of some sort needs to be made; a transformation needs to take place in order to establish the artist’s message. Sometimes the transformation is organizational—for instance, separate paints reorganized into an image in a painting—sometimes it can be contextual, material can be added or removed, and of course there can be really any type of change you can think of. In contrast to an earlier post on this blog called A New Context, this week’s artists create transformations that focus on the material—in contrast to a conceptual re-contextualization—used to create the art, and by adding to or removing from the material to re-form it into a new object, imbued with new meaning.
Ron van der Ende is a Dutch artist working with found wood to create incredible bas-relief sculptures. From Wikipedia, “A bas-relief is a projecting image with a shallow overall depth, for example used on coins, on which all images are in low relief. In the lowest reliefs the relative depth of the elements shown is completely distorted, and if seen from the side the image makes no sense, but from the front the small variations in depth register as a three-dimensional image.” So now you know. To emphasize, all of his sculptures you see are basically flat, with a few lightly raised surfaces. If you look at the artwork that Van der Ende creates from an image it might be touch to accept that they are not more three-dimensional. Visitors to his studio have been known to get dizzy due to the mind-bending persepctive employed.
The found wood used adds a history and character that imbue the sculpture with more (conceptual) depth than could otherwise be possible for these sculptures. Van der Ende does not paint these sculptures at all, instead choosing wood that has the colors he is looking for, re-contextualizing that history into something new.
Anna Gillespie is a sculptor working in a few different categories—bronzes, found object assemblages, and work made from arboreal materials like acorns and pinecones. A common ground in her work is the human body; it is a timeless canvas that everyone can understand. When I look at Gillespie’s human forms being made from so many different natural elements I cannot help but think that she is remarking upon our place as a part of nature. We are so many things, but fundamentally, we are an organic part of this planet, we are life just as much as the acorns used to create the sculpture in the first place.
Unlike Ron van der Ende, the wood that Morgan Herrin sculpts with has no history of it’s own; he uses cheap, recycled, construction-grade lumber precisely because it represents our culture’s love for inexpensive and disposable things. Herrin adds value to what is not valued and transforms somethings that we would think little of into sculptures that are anything but cheap and throwaway. Hours and hours of work are put into a single sculpture to transform the basest of construction materials into art that we can construct stories around. The creation of artwork that has great intrinsic value from materials that have essentially no intrinsic value, that transformation is what Herrin excels at.
Duality is a key concept that Herrin employs in each piece; the duality of value and cost, the duality of preservation and disposablilty, and also, the duality of style and material. Specifically, having to do with style and material, these sculptures would not look out of place if they had been carved from marble. Perhaps they would be a little too surreal, but his sculpting abilities surely are on par with those who sculpting with marble in ancient times and up through history. Marble is clearly an expensive, permanent material that is expensive enough to require only having the best carve into it, resulting in timeless, beautiful, and often human, artwork that lasts through the ages. Herrin juxtaposes that style with something inherently opposite of marble and thus exposes the triumph of skill that can elevate a temporary, modern material to the same level as that which is classical.
Guy Laramée is a multi-disciplinary artist from Montreal. In his life he has composed music, authored books, studied anthropology, and is a painter and sculptor. He has created some of the most beautiful sculpture that I have ever seen: it is intricate, imaginative, and draws you in so you can see every detail. Laramée takes books and transforms them into landscapes. In his words, “I carve landscapes out of books and I paint romantic landscapes. Mountains of disused knowledge return to what they really are: mountains. They erode a bit more and they become hills. Then they flatten and become fields where apparently nothing is happening. Piles of obsolete encyclopedias return to that which does not need to say anything, that which simply IS. Fogs and clouds erase everything we know, everything we think we are.”
Look at the detail in these pieces! Laramée completely reimagines what kind of information we can get from a book, transcends the material itself and at the same time makes good use of something that is not being used anymore. The level of realism is astounding; Laramée has made a lot of these sculptures and you can see the passion involved in creating this transformation. There are so many more at his website, so make sure to take a look.
London based Nick Gentry is the final artist this week. Though he is the only non-sculptor this week, he is no less of a transformer; in fact, the themes in Gentry’s work fit nicely in with many of the artists featured this week. Similar to Van der Ende, Gentry takes found materials that are already imbued with a history of their own and uses them as a canvas for his own work. Like Gillespie, the human form and it’s relationship with the materials chosen as a canvas is a central theme in his work. Whether that is using old computer disks or film negatives his goal is to recycle and use obsolete media to create something entirely new. The last comparison I can draw is between Gentry and Morgan Herrin: they both use overlooked and unconventional materials as their canvas.
Gentry’s artwork is multi-faceted; not only do we see a portrait, we see history, we see labels, programs, files, images. Do they belong to the person in the portrait? Are we the sum of our digital lives? Are we defined by a collection of memories, snapshots of the past? I think Gentry is saying yes. I think the most prominent transformation present in Gentry’s work is not the transformation of disks and film into art, but the inclusion of the context of those disks and film into his art.