Visual Art In/Visible Is Up: The Roaming Sculptures of John Grade
posted by January 23 at 15:15 PMon
The man with his back to us in the photograph above is Seattle artist John Grade. Mounted on him is his sculpture Collector: two horn shapes made of interlocking wood parts, first displayed at Davidson Contemporary Gallery last year. Back then, the piece hung on the white wall—in a refined state. That was before Grade took it hiking.
Now, the piece has acquired a mane of seaweed: It lies among the oysters—watched over by some oystermen—in Willapa Bay. Here are views of it there.
Later this year, Grade will take it out of the water, remove the oysters that have grown on it, and eat them in a formal feast on the site. After that, the horns will be mounted onto the front of Grade’s red pickup truck, where they’ll acquire a layer of bug guts as he drives them down to a slot canyon in Utah.
This particular canyon was the driving force behind the shape of the horns in the first place—that and an experience Grade had with hostile Ugandans during a trip a few years ago. (For the full story on that, you have to listen to the podcast.) The horns were shaped to fit snugly into the canyon, and in the spring, the rushing water that goes through the canyon will either scrub the horns bone-clean, or destroy them. Grade will wait to see.
Until recently, Grade was known mostly for his small, intensely controlled charcoal and graphite drawings, like this one, Bog (2005).
His other familiar work was finely wrought, faux-weathered sculptures. The new work comes out of both these traditions. It’s formally tight, at least to start. It’s not faux-weathered, it actually weathers. It changes with its site, like the process work of Turner Prize winner Simon Starling, and according to the lapsing of time, like (Turner Prize nominee) Darren Almond’s videos. (Grade admires both British artists.)
Bog is a drawing that refers directly to an installation Grade unveiled last week: a giant, sagging false ceiling dotted with craters, made of paper pulp and hanging in Suyama Space in Belltown. That’s where I met him to talk for this podcast.
Seeps of Winter is the new installation’s title. Grade first got the idea for it during a residency near a bog in Mayo County, Ireland. Running by, Grade couldn’t help thinking about the human beings frozen under the thick surfaces of bogs for thousands of years—the ones who surface occasionally, staring upward. In Suyama Space, the false ceiling acts as the bog surface; you can lie on the floor to look through at the natural light above.
Like Collector, Seeps of Winter has an adventurous life ahead of it.