23 No. 8
publication of the International Sculpture Center
"Imitation Knotty Pine"
Delta Axis @ Marshall Arts
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and art historians are equally engaged in interpreting the past, though
what appears in history books and on museum walls is no always what motivates
studio work. Indeed, one might suggest that artists construct the past
they needor desirebased on the images they tack to corkboards
or the individuals and sensibilities they freely acknowledge in their
Crump, Remember Me Fondly.
Knotty Pine," organized by noted Memphis sculptor Greely Myatt, took
its title and inspiration from H. C. Westermanns canonical
1996 sculpture. Less about influence than license, the exhibition provided
the occasion for several artists to reflect on Westermanns idiosyncratic
art and to remind us of his ongoing importance for studio practice. His
work effortlessly combined the obsessive detail of the self-taught with
the symbolic form of Modernist art, while his life was equal parts honest
autobiography and cagey mythmaking. Both the art and the life provided
inspiration for many of the artists in the exhibition.
Saftels, Shark for a Hero.
front room was dominated by Stephen Crumps woodworking tour de force,
Remember Me Fondly. Carved and constructed from Deodora cedar, the sculpture
was made from a tree recently felled in the artists yard during
a violent windstorm that devastated Memphis in July 2003. Constructed
on an angle with a skill Westermann would have admired, Crumps box
transformed Westermanns coffin motif into a fitting tomb for a fallen
friend. The trompe-l'oeil pine cones and branch on top served as remembrance
for the deceased. Across the room, William T. Wileys cardboard boxes
with the figure of a portly Punch greeting the New Year ruminated on the
collusion of capitalism and imperialism in recent events. The figure,
like that alluded to in Tom Lees Oh Daddy Why Not!!!!, recalls Westermanns
use of self to comment on the plight of men in a hostile world. Where
the girth of Wileys figure announced a satirical intention, the
barrel-chested, limbless torso of Oh Daddy, brought home Westermanns
pride and anxiety in having served in two wars. Linking these works were
the specters of death and destruction, whether of men or materiel.
In the attached
space, several artists celebrated Westermanns life and interest
in woodworking. Andrew Saftels carved Shark for a Hero carried vignettes
of sharks, death ships, and a kamikaze, all conceived in homage to Westermann.
An accompanying letter continued the sculptors vaunted commitment
to sharing ideas and passions with other artists, while serving to illustrate
Saftels work in progress. Scott Rix constructed a large, anthropomorphic
anchorWestermanns favored signaturecomplete with outstretched
arms that acknowledged his life-long interest in acrobatics and his infatuation
with the cartoon figure Popeye. Leslie Snoke and Rob Van de Schoor drew
attention to the material of wood to provide further reflection on Westermanns
chosen medium, one firmly within the American grain, and one surprisingly
suited to Surrealist metamorphosis.
Knotty Pine" joins several recent exhibitions in remembering Westermanns
art and life. Rather than using the retrospective format to measure and
assess his accomplishment, however, these artists insisted that his art
lives on in their own, thereby writing a past that remains legible in
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