The University of Puget Sound’s (UPS) Kittredge Gallery is currently running two exhibitions by acclaimed members of fine arts faculties. Michael Johnson’s “Sculpture” and Ted Vogel’s “Shadow” show new work by each of the artists.
Johnson’s “Sculpture” exhibit consists of nine large wood sculptures that are set within the “large gallery” - the main exhibition space - like the pieces of an over sized game.
Currently an associate professor of sculpture at UPS, Johnson received his master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Cincinnati. He was also a recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship in 1995. His work has been exhibited in cities worldwide.
Johnson’s wood sculptures are enlarged versions of ordinary objects such as knobs, bottles and kitchen mortars. These humdrum objects of daily life - overlooked even while they receive frequent use - are fascinating to Johnson, who builds his enlarged versions of them in wood. In doing so he makes them into extraordinary things.
Almost all of the pieces in the show are constructed of birch plywood using a technique that renders the forms with a multifaceted surface.
“(K)nob” is a big, faceted knob that also resembles a giant trailer hitch. The whole of this piece is covered in gilt aluminum, a silver coating. Gilt aluminum is also used to accent parts of other sculptures such as the interior of “Pool,” Johnson’s version of an inflatable swimming pool.
Gilt copper and various dyes and paints are used to subtly color and accent select portions of various other sculptures as well. Still others such as “Bottle” - a giant that stands in the neighborhood of eight feet and works as the centerpiece of the show - are simply coated in a glossy varnish that shows off the silky grain of the wood.
Johnson calls himself a builder and a fabricator but it is clear that he is a sculptor and an artist to the core.
Installed in the Kittredge’s more intimate side exhibition space, the “small gallery,” is Vogel’s “Shadow” installation along with six works from his “Altar” series.
“Shadow,” the title piece of the exhibit, consists of the outline of an airplane (a World War II bomber) made entirely of rose petals spread on the floor of the space. Feathers made of unglazed porcelain lay here and there on the rose-petal “shadow.”
Vogel’s fascination with the shadows of airplanes that skim strangely over the ground began when he was working in a ceramics studio in Berlin. There Vogel had frequent encounters with the shadows of the airplanes in whose flight path his studio stood. The shadows brought thoughts of the ominous allied bombers that would have passed over Berlin during World War II. Vogel also associates “Shadow” with the ghostly, nuclear shadows of objects caused by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He further notes that the Afghan countryside is currently a place traversed by the shadows of aircraft armed with deadly ordnance.
Use of rose petals to recreate the shadow of a bomber recalls something of the works of the German artist Joseph Beuys - himself a Luftwaffe gunner who was shot down during the second world war - whose installations sometimes featured dried roses and other non-traditional art materials.
Thought provoking though it is, Vogel’s rose petal and porcelain installation is overshadowed artistically by its smaller counterparts: the six compositions from the “Altar” series that are perched on pedestals on either side of the room.
These intimate sculptures consist of compositions of objects based upon thick, ceramic slabs that are coated in thick glaze. Objects of other media are set atop these tactile slabs. In “Head Roost,” for example, a bird and the human head on which it is seated are made of cast iron. These are set atop an upturned porcelain bowl whose sides are deeply grooved. In turn the bowl rests atop the slab that is coated in a livid, crimson glaze that is crackled, crazed and split.
Vogel’s expert handling of ceramic media is the result of his scholarly and artistic background. He received his master’s degree in fine arts in ceramic sculpture from the University of Colorado at Boulder and is the program head of ceramics at Lewis & Clark College in Portland.
A gallery talk by Vogel will be scheduled during the run of the show. Both Johnson’s “Sculpture” and Vogel’s “Shadow” exhibits run through Feb. 20. For further information visit www.pugetsound.edu/kittredge or call (253) 879-3701.