The first of the bas-reliefs is "Body Clock," made of joined and planed cottonwood boards adorned with carvings, pencil drawings and geometric color fields in acrylic paint. A sense of passing time is conveyed in a number of ways. On the left side of the three-part panel (which Buck chooses not to handle as a triptych) is a carved, wooden-line drawing of an hourglass, rendered in high relief and completely free from the chiseled background. On the opposite panel, which has been notched to accommodate a blue painted square, the natural appearance of the wood provides a perfect ground for graphite versions of more headless torsos. Those torsos, twelve of them, have been arranged in an oval around a low-relief carving of a twig, suggesting a clock.
The color fields on "Body Clock" and a few of the other wall panels are reminiscent of minimalist painting. But Buck's later reliefs move away from that influence and toward a hybrid of drawing and sculpture. Elaborate graphite drawings are the dominant outstanding feature of "The Shape of Content," and Buck even creates a rough illustration by gouging the painted area to reveal the color of the wood underneath. Dominating the wall panel are several sets of carved wooden eyes, all in their own shadow boxes, that evoke reliquaries.
In other wall panels such as "Ohia" and "Ulu," those shadow boxes become fully blown niches decorated with carved objects. In both of these similar pieces, a drawing evocative of European surrealism has been carved out and detailed with graphite. In "Ohia," it's a black bird in a cage in the shape of a bust; in "Ulu," the same bird is restrained in a torso-shaped cage. The object-filled niches and the caged birds are set off by a conventionalized, painted flora element that resembles a detail from an antique coverlet or quilt.
There's no way to oversell the strengths of this latest Buck exhibit. Even those who might not care for his narrative approach will be unable to deny the power of his meticulous craftsmanship and thoroughly developed conceptual scheme. As a result, the show, the first of several small blockbusters scheduled around town this fall, is a must-see for anyone interested in contemporary art.