Monday, January 08, 2007

Joseph Wheelwright

Dorchester sculptor Joseph Wheelwright has a knack for seeing faces and human forms in the rough shapes of boulders and trees and then coaxing them out with his carving tools. His best works – staring stone heads and torsos, twigs and trees that hop up and walk – call forth a deep-seated childlike intuition that the world is filled with magic and marvels.

In his show at Boston Sculptors Gallery, Wheelwright again mines the tricky territory of fantasy and dreams, the home of fairy tales and Hollywood, from the man in the moon of George Melies’ 1902 film “Voyage to the Moon” to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Ents to a stone man in the 1984 movie “The Neverending Story.” When he falters, the result is saccharine and precious, like the ceramic suns hanging on the wall of your local taco joint or natural vitamins shop. An extremely busty naked lady carved from wood is just folksy kitsch.

Wheelwright is most successful when he takes greatest advantage of his raw quartz, basalt, granite and wood, their imperfections, the spots and barnacles, the rugged textures, when his transformations nudge you toward seeing the Old Man of the Mountain rather than imposing a cutesy face lift on the rock. Mouths carved out and polished smooth seem moist with life against the original rough stone. It’s as if elemental spirits are awakening inside the rock or wood after a long, long sleep. They are powerful, ancient souls, both wondrous and a little unnerving – because their intentions are unclear.

Joseph Wheelwright at Boston Sculptors Gallery, 486 Harrison Ave., Boston, Jan. 2 to Feb. 3, 2007.


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