Coming and Going
EXHIBIT: Homer Wells & Eben Markowski, dynamic works in metal, wax and video. Flynndog, Burlington. Through January 10.
ARTWORK: Wax figures by Homer Wells
Melted-wax human effigies and metal mega-fauna coexist nicely at the Flynndog this month, in a joint exhibition entitled "Form and Time." The two prominent Vermont sculptors presenting these works - Homer Wells of Monkton and Eben Markowski of Vergennes - obviously take form and time seriously. Wells' sculptures are like solidified vignettes of transformative moments in time, while Markowski's naturalistic forms are simply timeless and elegant.
Markowski's copper relief sculpture "Ancient Fish" portrays a modern monster, timeless in the sense of being unaffected by time. It's a 7-foot-long sturgeon - actually life-sized for the 250-million-year-old species. The sculpture's serrated spine, broad fins and sleek snout were constructed from thin sheets of copper. Like a wall-mounted paleontological specimen chiseled from antediluvian sediments, Markowski's fish is rigidly straight and sits on a rectangular plaque. The entire piece has a rich brown hue. A companion piece, "Buck of Ancient Fish," is the wooden sturgeon mold over which Markowski's "Ancient Fish" was formed.
Lifelike scale and exceptional craftsmanship are the hallmarks of Markowski's works. "Horse" stands the actual height of a pony. Its neck is bent downward, as if the animal were busily munching clover. An outdoor shot of the same copper equine appears on Markowski's website and is entitled "Grazing Horse." Regardless of the work's name or context, realism seems to be Markowski's primary aesthetic goal. His is a placid, uncomplicated, domesticated animal. The nonsymbolic rendering appears without any overt narrative.
"Naked Lady" is a poetic exception to Markowski's usual unadorned realism. The female nude is posed like an ascending dancer en pointe, connected to the earth by the tip of a toe, arms upraised. She seems to be acting out part of a myth, yet Markowski's humble title reveals nothing. The sculpture is also larger than life, so its uplifted arms may draw the viewer's eyes heavenward with them.
As Markowski presses copper and aluminum sheets over shaped forms, so Wells spreads slabs of wax - which he describes as "almost like pizza dough" - over a few basic faces in relief and nudes in the round. Unlike Markowski, however, Wells employs his blow torch to deconstruct rather than to assemble. In the process of deconstruction, Wells' figures take on new and dramatic personae.
Auguste Rodin's definition of sculpture as "an art of hollows and projections" is a highly apt description of Wells' partially melted creations. The figures are small, about 12 to 15 inches tall, and the faces are large yet not adult-life-sized. Wells imparts a broad range of pigments, and perhaps metals, to many of his figures. Others are left a natural honey color.
One of Wells' largest pieces is an untitled construction built on an elaborate rusted-steel base. A golden figure roughly 18 inches tall, melted into complex "hollows and projections," it looms over a circular platter of sand that was probably the top of an old steel oil drum. About two dozen faces from a single mold, brilliantly colored vermilion, silver, gold, green and blue, lie partially covered in the bed of sand. Their expressions are serenely oblivious to the flames that contorted them.
Another installation is a glass cabinet filled with distorted - indeed, tormented-looking - anthropomorphic abstractions. They are presented like a display of medical oddities dispassionately preserved for public view.
Half of the proceeds from sales of Wells' works are slated to go to Death with Dignity, a nonprofit political action committee working to "guarantee that all adult Vermonters have legal end-of-life choices." Most of his figures look appropriately dignified in their own terminal transformations.