We had a Washington University faculty exhibition at the Des Lee Gallery last month, which was a good excuse to finish a new painting and try a different form of presentation. Instead of using the word “installation”, I might use something like “actualization”, as the point of the piece was to enhance the viewer’s awareness of the object-presence, material relationships, imaginative space, and historical (or anecdotal) reference with near simultaneity. This poses an interesting set of problems in a gallery context because of the associated conventions for displaying and interacting with the work. Lunette is painted on a sheet of sandpaper from a floor-sander, and features a wooden remnant from some plumbing work in my house. The painting is hung about ten inches lower than normal, a kind of “setting” towards the bench which is meant to emphasize their relationship while encouraging the viewer to lean over. I made the frame out of African Mahogany flooring reclaimed from my neighbor’s house. It is the same species of wood that I used to build the bench, wood which had been discarded because of the extreme warping and cupping that it had undergone.
Collectively the work is meant to invoke rather than portray the ingredients of the poet Li Bai’s anecdotal demise– intoxicated, falling from his boat and drowning while trying to embrace the reflection of the moon.
The “flume” bench is built, and I am in the midst of the staining/finishing process. I ended up deciding that dovetails were the best design decision for both ends of the bench. Cutting them was a bit tricky, as there are no flat surfaces involved. But when you are cutting joints by hand, the irregularity of the surfaces is incidental. It boils down to marking well and sawing well. The African mahogany is not particularly forgiving, as it is very dense and prone to chipping, but I managed to make it work and am pleased with the results. I ended up cutting the bottom edge of the the vertical “keel” support into a curve to eliminate the last bit of strict geometry. It extends into a mortise in each leg, where it is fastened from the outside with a wedged dowel.
I’ve been thinking about benches as expressions of transience, as they tend to encourage you both to take a rest and to move on. When sitting on this bench, the variation in form actually made me want to move around and try out each contour for degrees of comfort. The slight slope reinforces the sense of transience, making “flow” a visceral and tangible experience for the sitter.