Thursday, December 3, 2009

Quiet motion

Kim Cheselka’s bent willow at Fulcrum

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec. 3, 2009
Pictured: installation view of Kim Chselka's willow pieces at Fulcrum Gallery. Photo by Mitch Dubin.

Note: This is an expanded version of the column in the Weekly Volcano.

To see two shows for the price of one, check out Kim Cheselka’s exhibition(s) at Fulcrum Gallery. Cheselka, an artist from Los Angeles, is showing bent willow sculptures in the front galleries at Fulcrum and idiosyncratic boxes in the back room gallery. The two are so entirely different it’s like getting two artists for the price of one, which is a real bargain considering that the price for looking at both bodies of work is free.

The willow work is serious art; the boxes are playful.

Cheselka collected willow branches along a river bank on a trip to Montana a few years back. Before drying them she bent them into evocative and sensuous shapes and peeled the bark. Using the willow’s natural shape and flexibility, she formed her wall-hanging sculptures without using wires, nails, staples, glue or any kind of support or binder. The final pieces are elegant explorations of abstract shape and the natural beauty of the material. The bamboo sticks swirl and spiral in overlapping circles. Most of the pieces hang directly on the wall and extend outward approximately a foot to a foot and a half. The two largest pieces are suspended a foot or so out from the wall.

In the right half of the front gallery (facing inward) the walls are painted dark grey to provide a striking contrast with the blonde wood. In the left side the walls are white. The contrast of similar forms against a light wall and a dark wall are interesting. In one the forms are almost white-on-white with very subtle color variations; in the other there is a more dramatic swirl of light against dark. The bamboo casts dark shadows against the white walls, but the shadows are barely visible against the dark gray.

The pieces are all about moving lines in space. Variations in color are almost non-existent and therefore become striking when color variations do appear — in two pieces only. Quiet Motion of Change (a very descriptive title) includes one mahogany-colored branch wedged into the swirls of blonde wood. Importance of Looking Up, the smallest piece, includes three tiny areas where the bark was not stripped. They look like sleeves slipped over the wood and provide a startling color contrast.

The works in the back gallery are boxed displays of collected images. There are seven of these. They are all very small. The images contained in the boxes include found, sculpted and painted objects such as trees, houses, boats, rivers, bird nests, eggs and animal skulls. It is personal and enigmatic imagery with meanings only the artist can fully comprehend — assuming that even she can. Wall texts explain some of her thoughts about each piece but provide very little explanation of the possible meanings. The boxes are playful and fun, but not as artistic as the bent willow works. My favorite piece is a box with a painted orange boat on a blue background and the tiniest figure of a woman imaginable.

In recent articles in this column I have written about pet peeves including works that depend on unusual uses of material and little boxes reminiscent of Joseph Cornell. I also recently praised basket maker Jill Nordfors Clark for her use of unusual materials, specifically hog gut. I seem to be contradicting myself. The difference in the use of materials is in how both Clark and Cheselka capture and emphasize the natural beauty and materiality of hog gut and willow as opposed to the corny and gimmicky use of materials in such things as, for instance, making a face out of lollypops or building a model house out of spaghetti. As for the Cornell-like boxes, it’s still hard to appreciate the inventiveness and aesthetic beauty of these when so many artists have done it. At least Cheselka constructs hers with skill and includes some interesting juxtapositions of images. But they’re still just one more idiosyncratic collection of objects in boxes, which do not in any way measure up to the artistic integrity of her willow pieces.

[Fulcrum Gallery, noon to 6 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Sunday and by appointment, through Dec. 31, 1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma, 253.250.0520]

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