As we left the two solo shows just opened at Boston Sculptors Gallery, my wife Madeleine exclaimed with an eloquent and breathy sigh: “Whew! What imagination! How are you going to review that?”
Indeed, it is strenuous, albeit delightfully so, to hitch your own imagination to the flights of two sculptors who share a studio and a life in nearby Maynard, Massachusetts. The trick is to husband your strength. Take advantage of pauses, sit, look out the window. Say to your over-heating imagination: “It’s only wood, after all.” Then, plunge in, once again.
Andy Moerlein’s wood is both found and transformed. Since Moerlein was present at the gallery, as he expects to be every Saturday, he mimed for me a trip through local woods, a metaphorical axe over his shoulder, on the lookout for wood with the kind of sinuous life-path he favors. Not just any wood, but wood that bulges and curves with the struggle for life, both sensuous and muscular. No wonder I felt tired just looking on!
But look again, and you see a performance that bids you to pause and appreciate the long length of time spent tapping our earth and our sun for energies. This is wood in its slow grain as well its more performative fast-dancing. And you may, as viewer, be a partner to both rhythms — which you’d better do if you want to last through both solo shows!
Sometimes Andy applies make-up to the performers, though they must first ask for it. Say a coating of glossy paint, or streak of buzzing metallic sheen, which he must apply outdoors and with caution since it vaporizes so easily.
As Moerlein is sitting in the gallery fiddling with his computer, he hears another “ask” coming from a sculpture that isn’t quite finished. These sculptures which seem to have co-evolved out of both Nature’s and Man’s will sure are demanding task masters! Moerlein jumps up to limn with one finger the change the wood is suggesting, firmly. He’s on demand, and appears to love it.
Around a wide corner, which seems more of an epoch than a few steps, is another solo show, Donna Dodson’s “Amazons Among Us,” which leads the viewer to ask him/herself “What are these four statuesque figures, sculpted in wood, asking of me?”
Majestic as well as subtly inviting, to my eyes they seem to be asking to be seen in the round, for all they are. First, for “Athena,” I accessed my Greco-Roman history to recall that I’d seen Athena in marble in the lobby of the Boston Athenaeum. In marble, she seemed assured of her place, even a bit frozen into place, as does happen to revered ancestors.
This “Athena” sculpted out of a log of black walnut in Dodson’s Maynard studio, seemed livelier, plucked from living wood, harboring natural cracks in her statuesque pose, that somehow suggested both fragility and readiness. After all, as goddess of both wisdom and war, Athena, in any form, has a large task to embrace.
Other goddesses, such as Queen Rani of Jhansi stretch our Western imaginations to visit Asia, specifically India, where nearly everyone recognizes Queen Rani and her deeds. As a help to our less tutored imaginations, here, Dodson sculpts “Rani” with her child strapped to her back in a famous escape episode: able warrior as protective mother.
I found action everywhere in Dodson’s figures, especially in the limbs and hands where traditional mallet and chisel did more intimate figuration than power tools are capable of; also in delicately penciled, discretely situated tattoos. And, surprisingly, for me, the views in back of these works are as arresting as the frontal poses of these Amazons, arresting in their grace, as if depth as well as readiness was inherent in every Amazon.
Viewers should be ready for the fact that all of these Amazons are interpreted as lions on two feet, fashionably shod to boot!
From acrobatic curves with magnetic skins to an inward restlessness wrapped in majesty, between “wooden” Amazons and woodsy poems, is there no place for a viewer to look for a pause? Maybe, yes, afterwards.
Also, there are notable collaborations with a suite of artists at this twin solo exhibit of Dodson and Moerlein. Look for a miniature Bonsai tree at the top of the entrance stairs as well as captivating videos and poems on the walls by Dodson’s “Amazons.”
(“Andy Moerlein: wood stone poem” and “Donna Dodson: Amazons Amongst Us” are on view through June 6 at Boston Sculptors Gallery, 486 Harrison Ave., Boston, Massachusetts. The gallery is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; First Friday receptions will take place on May 7 and June 4 from 5-8:30 p.m. There will also be a series of special events and performances tied to the exhibitions; for details, visit bostonsculptors.com.)