By Susan Froyd
By Byron Graham
By Robin Edwards
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By Josiah M. Hesse
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By Kate Gibbons
It's funny how things go in waves in the art world. One minute there's a gaggle of landscape shows everywhere you look, and the next minute photography and photo-based works are everywhere. This phenomenon is under way again, as there seems to be a lot of three-dimensional work on view in the galleries right now.
The most important of these sculpture exhibits is Black & White, a show at Walker Fine Art featuring the work of Jerry Wingren alongside that of Brenda Stumpf. Wingren is the bigger draw because he is so well-known hereabouts, having built an impressive career in contemporary sculpture and installation from his base in the foothills west of Boulder.
A conceptual artist who aims to convey spiritual content in his pieces, Wingren has a signature style that combines Scandinavian austerity with Japanese simplicity and a dash of Northwest Coast Native arts. In a sense, all of these aesthetic currents emerged in his work as much from his life experiences as from his art training.
Born in Alaska, Wingren grew up in a town whose population was neatly divided between Scandinavian immigrants and Tlingit people. The Tlingit are famous for their totem poles, and these carved-wood sculptures are definitely part of Wingren's artistic heritage, as he saw them every day during his childhood. Interestingly, he didn't overtly respond to them in his work until many years after he had left Alaska.
In 1959, Wingren entered the University of Washington but focused on Scandinavian and German literature rather than art. In the early 1960s, armed with a Fulbright Fellowship, he went to the University of Bremen to study German drama. While he was there, Wingren began working as a sculptor, apprenticing with two master sculptors, Otto Almstadt and Moritz Bohrmann; he later toured Germany for a few years with Kontakt Kunst, a group that presented live sculpting demonstrations.
Wingren developed his mature style, as seen in the work at Walker, in the 1980s and '90s. It was during the latter decade that he took a sabbatical to Japan. Wingren was first inspired by Japanese art in Germany, when he studied origami with Hiromi Hoshiko in Heidelberg; he carried out his own versions in folded steel instead of paper.
The first part of the show features a group of sculptures from Wingren's "Panino" series, and as the title implies, these works take the form of sandwiches, at least broadly speaking. Wingren has carved two pieces of wood, either red or yellow cedar, into similar but not identical shapes, then placed a rounded stone made of steatite between them. Several of these are mounted on rods so that the iconic "sandwich" form seems to be floating in the air.
Being airborne is hardly what the "Resting Stones" are about, however: They are firmly held in place down close to the surface of their copper stands. To say they have a weighty appearance would be accurate. For the "Granite Resting Stones," Wingren uses Swedish black granite, but since he's left it roughly finished, it's gray in color and not black. The three pieces on the stand are breathtakingly restrained in their look, with Wingren carving the stone into flattened, nearly naturalistic shapes evocative of river rocks worn by the rushing water. The most elegant of the "Resting Stones" are the ones made of dazzling white marble that seem to let off their own internal glow under the gallery lights.
The Zen character of Wingren's utter minimalism is contrasted tremendously by the work of the other artist in Black & White, Brenda Stumpf from New York, who is new to Walker's stable. Her pieces, mostly wall-relief sculptures, are densely composed and elaborately constructed — they're downright baroque. And whereas Wingren uses one or maybe two different materials, Stumpf uses everything imaginable.
In "The Reconciliation of the Two Mary's," a monumental wall construction, Stumpf has employed a mannequin bust, hand-cut copper plates and pieces of paper, wire, canvas, sand and a bunch of other things. These bits are used to convey the headless and armless bust of a woman wearing a floor-length gown; the reference in the title to there being two figures is expressed by the vertical spit up the middle of the composition. Despite the wide range of material, Stumpf has unified the entire thing with many coats of white paint. This all-over and somewhat matte finish makes it look as though "Two Mary's" is made entirely of paper, which couldn't be more wrong.
On the opposite wall is "Undercurrents," a six-part piece in which Stumpf has created a horizon line that runs through all six; above it is a dense bar of detritus composed of artificial flowers and plants as well as hand-cut shapes, dress patterns and other ephemera. Considering the horizontality of the composition, there's a definite landscape character to this piece.
I've often teased gallery owner Bobbi Walker about the titles she gives her shows, but I've got to admit that Black & White was perfect. Not only is most everything on display black or white, but the essence of the pieces by Wingren and Stumpf are also opposite to one another.
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