Rick Hodges, of Nexus Gallery in Orono, wanted to take an idea and build on it, literally. In 2 x 2 by 4, Hodges challenged himself and three other artists to create works within the gallery using a supply of 2” x 2” lumber, a saw, and a nail gun.
The results are a playful yet thought-provoking exploration of wood and space by Hodges; his friend and fellow artist Jiri Ladocha; Toronto-based photographer Mats Nordstrom; and local Orono artist and teacher Tony Cooper. The site-specific pieces are rounded out by a few additional works by Ladocha and Cooper that also relate to the show’s themes.
Hodges, a master woodworker whose studio is housed below the gallery, said he brought in 200 pieces of 2 x 2 lumber and then invited the other artists to join in the challenge to create some artwork specifically for the spring show.
“Once they got started, they liked the idea,” said Hodges at the opening of the show last Saturday. “Each one of them walked in and looked at the pile of 2 x 2s and said, ‘What am I going to do now?’”
The work of the four artists, who worked independent of each other, ties the themes of wood and space together neatly. Despite differing styles, the pieces sometimes make similar references to the creative process, to framing, and to exploring natural vs. man-made elements.
Nordstrom experimented with the lumber as a drawing medium, building directly onto the wall, and incorporating colour using stained pieces of wood. The industrial markings on the lumber also serve to highlight the unnatural aspect of the wood. The piece comments on the wastefulness often found in construction, and questions the process, when creating, of deciding what is good.
“Nordstrom used all of those parts of the wood that had been stained with this [blue] industrial stain. He decided to use all those parts which the rest of us had cut off and discarded because we wanted nice, clean wood,” noted Cooper as he looked at the artist’s work.
Hodges chose to explore the tension between contrasting elements in his work. Each of his three creations juxtaposes a natural element with a constructed element in an abstract form. In one piece, a brass carpenter’s plumb hangs in suspended animation between two wood anchors. In the others, a river rock and a tree trunk seem trapped by the surrounding industrial-style construct of the 2 x 2s, the form of which in turn hints at the natural shape of a river or a tree.
Ladocha created two pieces specifically for the show. The first piece is a playful construction that allows the viewer to engage in the creative process by moving various wood blocks around. The space in this piece can also be explored by viewing the wood form from different heights and angles. The second piece is more meditative, displaying the abstract minimalism of a classic constructivist sculpture.
Some of Ladocha’s more typical abstract work – elegant shapes with industrial-like finishes suggesting metal but actually made of wood – is also featured in the show. Shiny ball bearings cleverly peek out from cool, monotone surfaces, offering tiny but warm reflections of the gallery viewers and even the outdoors via a nearby window.
Cooper also managed to bring the outside in. He used the 2 x 2s to construct frameworks, to examine a space in relation to time, light and memory. One long, wooden frame maps the path of natural light, ushering it from a gallery window to a collection of paintings on an adjacent wall. A second wooden construction, which spans from floor to ceiling a few feet out from the paintings, acts as a framing device. “This frame is more to do with seeing, and forming memories — constructing the space that you’re in,” explained Cooper.
The paintings, made over several years, have been assembled into one large piece. Together, they document the changing features of a particular site over time, in winter and then spring. “It’s almost like you’re circumnavigating a certain area from different angles,” he said.
Locals who visit the gallery will appreciate the subject of Cooper’s paintings. The series of small paintings all depict a segment of the Orono Creek that runs behind the gallery.
“We can see the creek right through the window here,” remarked Cooper. “It’s just a few feet away. The paintings I’ve made are actually from just a few feet further down. If you live in Orono, the creek is something that you get to enjoy all the time.”
Cooper has lived here for about 20 years, he said. After studying at the Ontario College of Art, he went on to have showings at such galleries as the McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa, and the Station Gallery in Whitby. His wife, Maralynn Cherry, the current curator at the Visual Arts Centre of Clarington, is also an artist.
Nexus Gallery is on the main floor of the old flax mill at 5415 Main St. in Orono. The show runs through June.