Art review: Duncan Hewitt’s sculptures are worth looking at, whatever they are

Installation of Duncan Hewitt’s “Ten Cardboard Pieces” at the Buoy Gallery in Kittery. Photos by Lauren Zito

“I’m not sure what it is,” admits Duncan Hewitt in his artist statement about the sculptures in “nearby invisible,” his solo exhibition at Buoy in Kittery (through August 6). “I know what is observed: in one case, fragments of cardboard fruit/vegetable boxes – the kind with holes for ventilation and gripping, but almost flattened, thrown on the ground, possibly trampled. Each with its own story. »

You might also be scratching your head long after visiting the exhibit. This is because the work exhibited here lives in a sort of limbo, a creative space where nothing is what it seems. In order to open yourself to these sculptures, you must be comfortable with dwelling in not-knowing – a difficult proposition for most humans, who like fixity and comprehensibility.

Hewitt, who lives in the Portland area, is an incredibly gifted wood carver. And what might look like those collapsed cardboard boxes – complete with gloves, a hoodie and pieces of black fabric that fold in on themselves – are actually all made of wood that he carves and then finishes in a number of ways. very tactile. One can simply admire Hewitt’s dexterity with his equipment and leave it at that.

However, it is worth taking a closer look and letting go of our desire for easy explanations. That’s when a whole new world of possibilities and references can begin to reveal itself. These crates, for example, are assembled in a facility called “ten piece cardboard”. Upon encountering them for the first time, our brain immediately categorizes them and sorts them like crumbling cardboard. Once carefully labelled, we might reflexively think, “So what? »

But when we understand that it is wood carved to look like cardboard, our brains have a slight hallucination. We could understand them, as Hewitt writes, as “something new in the suspension between what is and what is not”. Longer contemplation might also spark memories of childhood forts made with packing cartons. The vent and grip holes might evoke, as they did to me, the eyes of hooded figures in Philip Guston’s paintings.

As these associations begin to flood and confuse our gray matter, we may also begin to notice the sensuality of the meaty palette with which they are painted. Or we might begin to appreciate them simply as mysterious objects in space. To answer Hewitt’s own question, we could therefore say that it is not just one, but several things that only topically suggest collapsed cardboard boxes.

“Colossus”, by Duncan Hewitt

Nearby is “Colossus”, a stylized corner cabinet on which rests a carved wooden hoodie. The title indicates an object or presence deserving of reverence and admiration, but what is commemorated in some kind of shrine is daily wear. A hoodie, of course, is no longer just a hoodie. Our interpretation of this simple garment was forever changed following the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, a young black man visiting relatives in Florida in 2012.

“Colossus” produces a complex amalgam of tense contradictions. There’s something eerie and ghostly about the hollow hoodie and the way it fits to one side, like it’s falling apart (or, more poignantly, life le leaving). Yet this strangeness emerges side by side with sadness in the face of a tragedy that has robbed us of the experience of perceiving such banal headgear as something innocent and harmless. It has an elegiac presence that approaches the pathos of a pietà.

We also feel an edgy incongruity between the apparent suppleness of the spongy cotton fabric that we know from memory and the rigidity of the carved wood that is its physical reality. And when we consider the form that holds this object, we switch between decoratively viewing it as an antique American piece of furniture and something more emotionally and spiritually charged (read: a shrine).

The same can be said of most “almost invisible” sculptures. They can be more lyrical, like “swan,” which appears as a small stack of light tomes, pages marked by scraps of wallpaper painted the color of lobster eggs. Yet all the pages are blank, whatever poetry, prose, or diary entries they once held for a long time. So what are these bits of “paper” actually trying to mark? There’s nothing we can hold onto forever, they seem to say. The scraps of paper seem like futile reification, wasted efforts to capture the essential transience of all things.

“Queen Wave” by Duncan Hewitt

Hewitt also uses various ancient firewalls in his sculptures. One, “Folker Spider”, contains eight pieces of wood painted black. Spiders, of course, have eight legs, so we can feel the screen as a sort of cage for the arachnid, even in its dismembered state (which might also conjure up childhood images of unconsciously cruel children tearing legs of a long-legged daddy). Once we have experienced this work, it is impossible to think of “King Wave” and “Queen Wave” as mere firewalls containing the sculpted pieces of “cloth” within them. One can imagine these fabrics, all in graceful folds, able to rush here and there in their cage-like structures, even if they are still.

The tension here, again, is mostly between their hard material and their apparent softness. But this notion animates them even more. And there is also a certain tension in the juxtaposition of a spark arrestor and objects made of a material that is normally the fuel for the fire that these spark arresters are supposed to contain.

Are any of these connotations intentional? Probably not. Like various sculptures of gloves draped over firescreens, all of these works are primarily about process – about carving a idea something, soaking up the qualities of the material and the sensuality of the form, making it both literal and not literal at all. All of these evoke ambiguous and confusing associations of what a thing really is, existentially speaking.

“Rest”, by Duncan Hewitt

The gloves look like rubber or wool but are neither. The piece “Wall Mirrors with Pictures” looks just as the title suggests, and it awakens our own photo associations that we have all stuck in the narrow crevice between the mirror frame and the reflective glass surfaces of objects. Yet the mirror is not a mirror and the photos are not photos. So what, exactly, is this new hybrid of a thing? To repeat Hewitt’s own admission, “I’m not sure what it is.”

Yet, through the process of their creation, it is clear that the initial idea of ​​the object being made and the artist himself were transformed by the making. If we hang around in not knowing everything – instead of rejecting our confusion – these sculptures can be many things at once. It’s a kind of freedom that most of us would like for ourselves.

Jorge S. Arango has been writing about art, design and architecture for over 35 years. He lives in Portland. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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