WOOD SCULPTURES EMANATE CALM
September 26, 2001
To gaze at the polished
wood that has been carved into intricate, abstract shapes offers
a relaxing kind of looking that feels almost chant-like or meditative
- an "om" for the eyes, if you will.
Their presence may be
pure happenstance, since exhibition schedules are set months or
even a year in advance. But it would be hard to name an art more
suited to the moment than the display of 15 wood sculptures by Milwaukee
artist Thomas Eddington that are on show in the Wisconsin Union
Galleries on the second floor of the Memorial Union through Oct.
Something about the
events of the past weeks brings a hunger for quiet and calm, a desire
for the basic and the natural. This show satisfies those cravings.
The works are solid,
continuous forms - much like interlocking links of a chain fashioned
from a single piece of wood - only more intricate and more simple.
If you ask people what
they resemble, you might get a lot of different answers.
Some might speak of a Moebius strip, that teasing strip turned in
on itself that stands for infinity.
Some might mention the
double helix of DNA or the spiral shape of a snail shell - proof
that the split between realism and abstraction isn't as always deep
or clear as we think.
Some might talk of other
cultures, perhaps the stone temple facades of ancient India and
Southeast Asia, perhaps the complex geometric shapes of North African
They have titles - "Unified
Field," "Ascension," "Round River," "Red
Tao" and "Spiral" - but the pieces really don't need
them to make their impact.
The artist used to do
representational art - torsos and busts - and then turned to abstraction
in the 1970s after he finished art school. A professional dog trainer
who got his start in that career in the U.S. Army, Eddington says
he meditates and carves each day.
"Wood is a force
of nature, as are we," he says. "It's also physically
easier to work with than marble, though some aspects of it are harder."
Each carving starts
out as the largest chunk of wood - butternut, tupelo, catalpa, mahogany
- that Eddington can get his hands on. Working it into its finished
state takes anywhere from several dozen hours to more than 120 hours
of drilling, cutting, filing and polishing. Sometimes, he says,
he pushes the wood beyond its limits and it breaks and he has to
A quiet man, the Chicago
native compares both the product and the process to meditation and
a Zen-like calm.
"Any activity you
become absorbed in is similar," says Eddington, who started
working with wood as a child when he made fishing lures and learned
the craft from his grandfather, who was a carpenter with a basement
woodshop at home.
"I don't create
the work to show other people something," he says. "I
just do the piece to please myself and hope that the nature of it
being organic and symmetrical is pleasing or useful to others."
And what would the creator
like the beholder to experience?
Eddington says he would
like his work "to bring a sense of repose or serenity that
is available to everyone. I want the viewer to feel the way I do
- more centered and peaceful - when they're looking at the work.
It is an experience beyond words or symbols. The art is simply a
finger that points to the actual experience."
But he emphasizes that
he doesn't set out with a particular end result in mind.
"I like to let
the wood speak for itself," he explains. "Each piece evolves
and is more influenced by the grain of the wood, which is curvilinear,
than anything else. All my work is kind of a search for meaning
by harmonizing two forms joined into one - like the dualities of
life and death or day and night in everyday life. It's all one."
He adds that his art
helped him cope with the crushing loss of his 21-year-old daughter
in a car crash in 1997.
"I think that's
why a lot of people like my work," he says. "I can't explain
why they like it, but I just know that it's pleasing to a lot of
people and it helps."
by Jacob Stockinger
The Wisconsin Union
Galleries are open free of charge to the public. Gallery hours are
10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.