John Webb: “Pile” Sculpture
March 2–April 30, 2012
Tendrils, tentacles and vesicles writhe in absolute stillness. John Webb’s pale forms mark their respective territories on the Peel Gallery floor. These are not monsters, but sculptures.
The works of wood belie their medium by appearing molded, cast or extruded as if from clay; only the natural color of birch and telltale striations of plywood indicates the material. Despite the imposing scale of these sculptures, there is lightness about the work. Webb forms large cavities within several of his pieces, allowing the shapes to breathe and provides the viewer several layers to peer through. Other pieces attain this effect through a nest-like construction.
While all of Webb’s work in “Pile” has a playful, organic sense about it, many of the sculptures have an austere element to impose an order. Piercing and penetrating rods counter rounded forms and add structure; others use carefully interlocking forms. Some of the more wild sculptures are made from stacks of smaller curvilinear pieces. Held together by gravity and tension alone, Webb creates synergy out of seeming chaos.
Webb designs his sculptures on a computer the way an architect might design a building — in fact, Webb is an architect! In this way, the artist is able to plan and craft the wood to create the complex shapes in the exhibition. Webb’s background as both a sculptor and an architect impart a certain earnestness when addressing the materiality of his work. He respects the intrinsic qualities of the plywood and features the natural finish proudly.
The awareness and delicate treatment of the material imparts a quality of reversion to the sculptures. The creation of these fluid forms from rigid plywood acts as a foil to the nature of plywood: a form of life that was forced into a building material. Not quite returned to a natural state, the sculptures exist in a state of tension.
Within the context of architecture, the viewer is allowed to question the sense of scale in these life sized sculptures: are we viewing the model of a building or a scaled up bone structure? Perhaps a little of both. The viewer is left to reconcile the similarities between the organic form and the built environment.
— GEOFF SMITH
Geoff Smith is a twenty-something arts enthusiast, printmaker and occasional curator.