Wood works emphasize nature destroyed, civilization decayed

April 09, 1993|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

It would be hard to imagine a much better match than Brent Crothers and David Gleeson, the two artists sharing the spotlights at Galerie Francoise this month. Both are sculptors, both work in wood, and the message of each nicely complements that of that of the other.

Gleeson's work concerns civilization and psychology. His two largest sculptures here consist of series of upright, rough-hewn pieces of wood that under his ministrations resonate with meanings. "Aftermath" is composed of 10 standing figures in natural wood, into which he has inserted numerous small blocks stained with yellow acrylic paint to provide contrast but not stark contrast.

These can be seen (in the artist's view) as ruins with lichen growing over them, nature reclaiming her own from civilization. They can also be seen as more anthropomorphic: human figures straining unsuccessfully to connect but held back by the impersonalization that a technological age imposes (those stained blocks make the whole thing look a little like it's made of computer parts).

"Passage" presents two groups of six uprights into which Gleeson has gouged holes at about face level, if you take them as surrogates for human figures. The holes can suggest the eye or the mouth as window of the soul, or they can be seen again as communities slowly decaying with age, rotting from within.

"Bare," a single upright painted white, with a series of red slats that look something like Venetian blinds protruding to form a sort of cage, is the most visually pleasing and the least communicative of the three Gleesons. The soft red color of the slats and the wax with which they were coated give them a sensuousness that contributes to the piece's overall beauty. One can perhaps see archaeological strata here, but the piece tends to seduce one away from analysis.

As Gleeson's work is, at least on one level, about the decay of civilizations, Crothers' deals with man's (or "civilization's") destruction of nature. "How I got to be Perfect" is a mound of twigs surrounded and held in by row upon row of books -- specifically, Reader's Digest condensed books. The twin indictments here -- that we learn about nature second-hand, from books, and that consequently we feel no pain when we destroy it to make things that really aren't worth the sacrifice -- are not

exactly subtle, but the piece makes its point.

More handsome is "Where's Your Forest?" a cluster of upright tree limbs that have been cut away to show their underlying structures, like the skeletons of humans. The analogy makes the point that killing forests to serve human needs (even in the name of art) should be compared to killing humans with the same rationale. (I'm told that Crothers uses only dead trees or ones that have been slated for destruction anyway.)

For "No, I Like Nature" Crothers tethered one of his stripped-down limbs -- stripped down but still indicating its natural form -- to what a tree becomes in human hands: a squared-off beam with which to build something. The title may be ironic, as spoken by a developer in "some of my best friends are . . ." mode.

The works of these two sculptors get along well together; they look as if they positively enjoy this opportunity to visit with one another, and as a result the show as a whole, despite its somber messages, has a happy side.

Two Sculptors

Where: Galerie Francoise et ses freres, Green Spring Station, Falls and Joppa roads.

When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through April 26.

Call: (410) 337-2787.

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