October 27, 2017 – January 18, 2018
Two artists working in different ways—Robyn Horn, with strongly sculptural pieces incorporating the natural heft and gestures of wood, and Brian Dickerson, whose constructed paintings build up paint on joined wood surfaces—enter an artistic conversation in this exhibition. Horn’s explorations of painting and Dickerson’s move toward full sculptural forms mirror and illuminate each other’s practice, stimulating how we look at the possibilities of wood informed by volume and color.
The Center, known for its new approaches to wood as a material for art, is the perfect venue for an exhibition that juxtaposes the works of Horn and Dickerson and provokes fresh dialogue relating to the intersections of sculpture and painting, craft and fine art, painted versus natural surfaces, illusionary depth versus actual depth.
Note: All exhibition items, except noted as not for sale [NFS], will be for sale to the public starting on October 27, 10 AM. For inquiries, please contact Lori Reece, at 215-923-8000 or by email at [email protected].
CRISS CROSS is sponsored by the Collectors of Wood Art. The exhibition program and documentation is generously supported by the Cambium Giving Society, the Fleur Bresler Publication Fund, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Philadelphia Cultural Fund, and William Penn Foundation. Corporate support is provided by Boomerang, Inc., Penn State Industries, and Signarama Center City.
CRISS CROSS: ROBYN HORN / BRIAN DICKERSON at The Center for Art in Wood is part of CraftNOW Philadelphia, which unites the leading institutions and artists of Philadelphia’s craft community in a celebration of the city’s rich legacy of craft, its internationally-recognized contemporary craft scene, and its important role as an incubator for arts based in wood, clay, fiber, metal and glass.
The Executive Director’s, Curator’s and Artists’ Statements are excerpts from the CRISS CROSS catalogue-avaiable for sale now in the Len Scherock Museum Store.
- Executive Director's Statement
- Curator's Statement
- Artist's Statement: Brian Dickerson
- Artist's Statement: Robyn Horn
ALBERT LECOFF /
CRISS CROSS: THE FUTURE OF THE PAST
The Center, like many museums around the world, is questioning the traditional boundaries between the craft and fine art world. When Miriam Seidel proposed CRISS CROSS: Robyn Horn / Brian Dickerson to our exhibitions committee, we were immediately drawn in because of her unique insights and familiarity with both fields.
CRISS CROSS exemplifies that wood and metal and paint are beautiful and powerful together. The materials, scale and construction the artists bring provide something to intrigue and excite every viewer. Both Robyn Horn and Brian Dickerson start with wood, but here they show us how broad and deep their respective visions are. They each work in layers, and dimension and surface, seemingly simply, until you examine each work closely.
Since the Center’s incorporation in 1986, combinations of materials have been integrated into the Center’s Museum Collection. Various works show the power of wood and metal plus paint.
For example, Hap Sakwa combines these in Space Burger (fig. 1). Giles Gilson also combines different materials in his elegant sculpture Vase with Necklace 87 (fig. 2). Wayne & Belinda Rabb collaborated on Vase – Red with Blue Square (fig. 3). Michael Chinn incorporates metal in his architectural sculpture Tri—10,000 (fig. 4). Frank Cummings highlights his fret carved rim vessel with a band of inset gold and exotic materials in Nature in Transition (fig. 5).
CRISS CROSS gives us bold, modern combinations. Large and small, smooth and textured, painted and plain. Horn and Dickerson bring us their experiments and expressions to examine and enjoy.
MIRIAM SEIDEL /
CRISS CROSS: A CONVERSATION
This exhibition began as an experiment. What would happen when two artists, coming out of two traditions—Brian Dickerson from abstract painting, and Robyn Horn from wood sculpture—were invited to show their work side by side?
These two artists share a deep commitment to wood as artistic material, and a strongly developed intuitive, process-based working method. But they had found their paths from different starting points, worlds with differing markers of interest and value. Could their artworks, seen together, illuminate the concerns that lie behind their work?
Along the way, something serendipitous happened: The exhibition turned into a conversation. The artists did not meet before the show’s opening; Horn lives in a small town in Arkansas, and Dickerson recently relocated from Philadelphia to a small town in upstate New York. But they spoke together and studied each other’s art and, starting about a year ago, began working on new pieces that took into account and responded to what they understood as salient features of the others’ work. The results of this crisscrossing process are part of this show, and add another dimension to it. The exhibition as a whole gives us an energetic jumping-off point to consider questions of color and surface, the interplay of craft and fine art, and of painting and sculpture.
Looking closer at both artists and their work, we see other correspondences and crossover points that erode or reshape the boundaries that seem to divide them.
Influences. Both artists cite the influence of sculptors in their work. Dickerson refers to the massive desert trenches of earth artist Michael Heizer, and the inward-curving shapes of Richard Serra’s steel piece Torqued Ellipses, as inspiration for the small recesses, open but inaccessible, that form the focal point of many of his“constructed paintings.”
Horn, from the start of her emergence at the center of the woodturning art movement that coalesced and grew in the 1970s, found herself drawn to solid forms. Dealing with the sculptural issues of weight, mass and movement led her to connect with the work of British sculptor Barbara Hepworth, and early modernist sculptors including Alexander Archipenko, Eduardo Chillida, and Constantine Brancusi.
While it’s not surprising that Dickerson, a painter, would acknowledge another painter—abstract expressionist Ad Reinhardt—as an influence on his own use of monochrome fields of color, it’s more unexpected to learn that Horn was inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s 1912 painting Nude Descending A Staircase, and would thentranslate its cascading cubist forms into sculpture in her “Slipping Stones“ series. This series grew out of her “Stepping Stones” sculptures, which daringly explore the interplay of gravity and movement in works that seem modular/cubistic but are each made from a single piece of wood.
Media. Horn, having worked as a photographer, began her artistic career in the world of woodturning, at the point when the traditional art of turning wood on a lathe began to blossom as an art form. She imbibed the respect for the “figure” of the wood—its specificities of grain and texture and workability—that form an integral part of the craft tradition of art in wood.
Dickerson began as a landscape painter, but his mature work began when he started using birch panels as his painting ground, often joining different pieces together. He adds to these with small wood scraps, creating knots of visual detail that beckon the viewer closer. The finished works, which he calls constructed paintings, have both thickness and elements of high relief.
Surface and color. Finding much to explore in the natural colors and distinct appearances of different kinds of wood, Horn did not venture to add color until 1999, when she painted one of her “Standing Stone” sculptures. A decade later, she began more systematic experiments with color on the smooth surfaces of her sculptures, contrasting dynamic areas of color with planes of natural-hued maple and redwood. In 2013, following an injury, Horn turned to painting on canvas, producing strong abstract forms with color and textures mimicking old wood, rust and other patinas.
Dickerson’s surfaces are striking for their weathered look, appearing to witness the scars of time and exposure. This is a result of his working process, involving multiple revisions by scraping, sanding, or sometimes torching a painted layer and then painting over it, or even cutting earlier paintings and using them as grounds for new ones. Each discrete area has its own dominant hue, as if its color has been subsumed into the character of that particular picture plane.
Recent Work. In the year leading up to the exhibition, both artists made work revealing thoughtful and surprising responses to the other’s artistic approach. Horn created a series of multi-planed works from sections of reclaimed timber, their weathered surfaces recalling those of Dickerson’s paintings. Her new series of shallow wall-hanging boxes, called “Reliquaries,” references another aspect of Dickerson’s work—those openings that, like excavations or reliquaries, suggest hidden secrets. And Dickerson’s new constructions have left the wall for the first time, to become sculptures. With their long limbs venturing out in space, they feel like attenuated cousins of Horn‘s “Stepping Stone” sculptures—paintings taking their first steps off the wall.
What can be learned from this experiment? The answers are many and open-ended. Starting from the guiding tenets of each artist’s original field: the issues of craft and skill, and of care for the specific properties of the material used—tenets that have been central to wood art—may be set aside or re-framed by an artist who has mastered them. Horn has done this in her “Industrial Series,” playing with the contrast of weathered and raw surfaces. By the same token, an abstract painter can find greater expressive scope by not only replacing canvas with plywood, but also building up from and down under the surface with assemblages of wood scraps—small wood sculptures in themselves. Nothing is forgotten, and everything is in play.
BRIAN DICKERSON /
The deeply layered, reworked surfaces of my constructed paintings form a reportage of experience and emotion— a revelation of the time—honored process of self-exploration and all that it reveals. Hidden forms, apertures, geometric planes imposed onto flat layered surfaces suggest a geography, a key to exploring our own life experiences and how we came to be shaped and molded by them. These portals broach an elusive mystery: reflecting what has been discovered and what has been lost.
Visual, tactile and structural elements allow viewers to mine their own lives as each piece redefines our notions of sacred space, allowing for the opportunity of quiet reflection amid the chaos and uncertainty of the surrounding world. Assertive and strong in composition, these mediators of mystery elevate the viewer’s contemplation of deep surfaces — work undone and remade through scraping, sanding, painting over, like memories that have been reformed, polished, and retold from the distance of time.
The work does not reference a particular place, person or event, but rather suggests a collage of interrelated subjects. Still, the knotted angles and landscapes of thick, monochrome paint offer vistas of tactile and structural elements that evolved from the starting points of the Helderberg mountain region in upstate New York, my earliest memories, and the rich countryside surrounding the village of Ballycastle, County Mayo on the northwest coast of Ireland, where I lived and worked as a Ballinglen Foundation Fellow.
A friend and colleague once suggested that my work would eventually “come off the wall.” This exhibition finds truth in those words. This past year, l began using discarded fragments from other paintings, constructing freestanding sculptures. My associate in this exhibition, Robyn Horn (primarily a sculptor) has recently begun to explore pieces painted on wood, hung on a wall. The title “Criss Cross” named itself — each of us probing what has been the dominant process of the other.
While my work evolves from personal references, experiences and memories unknown to the viewer, it is my hope it will prove a catalyst for individuals to wander through their own mysteries of imagination and uncertainty.
ROBYN HORN /
Before I was asked to participate in this exhibition, I was unaware of Brian Dickerson’s work. When Miriam Seidel brought it to my attention, I was immediately drawn in and felt that his work related to mine in many ways. I could understand why, as a curator, Miriam thought there were aspects of our work that held parallel ideas. I have been exploring the use of paint on my wood sculptures for several years, and have found many different methods of introducing paint as well as other things to the forms I make. The depth that Brian achieves with his built up surfaces, his color palette, the linear geometry he uses and the distressed textural qualities of his work— all of these aspects appeal to me.
Over the last decade, I have come to believe that exploration is a very important aspect of making art. It is a little more difficult to do that with sculpture than with painting, simply because the artist must plan ahead when using the subtractive process. When I started painting, I was able to experiment more. By making more mistakes, I was able to ascertain which mistakes to keep and expand upon, and which to discard. That was a valuable lesson learned. Unconscious competence is the level of mentality that has helped me realize that I can be sure of my decisions as I work.
The concept that bridges the different Series of my works in this exhibition has to do with perception, and whether what we perceive is what is real. I enjoy challenging viewers to make sense of a piece of my artwork, how it’s made and what it means. It gives them an opportunity to assess it in their minds, enabling them to come to an understanding about what the truth is about each one. I also enjoy misleading them a little in order to capture their attention a little longer. Working with small metal objects that are not immediately identifiable increases the ambiguity of purpose, particularly in the Industrial and Reliquary Series. The perception of the Slipping Stones being separate components is also somewhat misleading. This misconception furthers the idea that has evolved throughout my work for over thirty years and has moved into subsequent Series without my realizing it. Unconscious competence again, what we all strive for.