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by Ann Carter
En route to an exhibition at the Scarabb Gallery in Cleveland, I found myself in the midst of a violent storm that preceded a tornado. This unexpected experience evoked the dichotomy between the immediate, overwhelming environmental circumstances and the very premise and title of the exhibition I was traveling to see, "Intimate Views."
Presented as three solo exhibitions, "Intimate Views," consisted of works by artists Matthias Dwell, William Radawec and Cindy Smith, all of whom, often, utilize the intimacy of scale with an emphasis on drawing as primary elements in their work. But for the purposes of this discussion, the following focuses on William Radawec's work within the context of the gallery site; its primary relationship to intimate scale as it relates to nature and the conceptual reversal of our often grandiose perception of, and experience in, the natural environment.
The placement of Radawec's work utilizes the existing architecture of the gallery to reinforce its content and structure. The sizes of the individual pieces are consistently compact and most frequently scaled according to the actual size of the subject matter at hand. Two corners of the gallery harbor paired works from the "Soul Patch" series, thereby summoning the viewer to "face the corner." The corner, with its tremendous recent historical references (home of the powerful piece by Terry Fox, titled corner push-1, where he spent no small amount of time trying to compress his entire body into the confines of a specific angled space) as site of often small scaled works utilizing tension in the form of support, intrusion or expulsion from the junction, in this case, provides an intimate setting, much like the meeting of two pages in a book. Each soul patch is a rectangular panel positioned at eye level, with one in each pair consisting of "fake grass" (model railroad foliage) concealing a "ground," which, unbeknownst to the viewer, is actually a painting in acrylic on wood. Thus, we have a painted "ground" obscured by real fake grass, a succinct statement conveyed by material, language, and process; the "real" material of representation versus the supposed "fakeness" of simulation. In fact, as an innately theatrical society, we often interact with the facsimile, or the simulated, and sometimes choose it over the absent or presumed original.
On the adjoining wall and in close proximity, hangs a similar soul patch--rectangular, visually dense, green and rather minimal, but crafted of drawing materials. The reduplication again embraces concepts of representation and simulation. This soul patch is a labor-intensive compilation of marks that look like grass, presented as if one is viewing a rectangular patch of lawn from four feet above. The marks function as texture and accumulation, speaking to the dual process of growth and decay. The "Soul Patch" series is named for Radawec's fondness of cemeteries--inspired by his many walks through them--referencing the grassy areas above the buried beloved and the absence of the soul below.
walking stick, #14 and walking stick, #15 are wooden dowels of functional walking stick scale, but with single, tiny, model train trees atop each, thus, varying the scale relationship to the viewer. The tree initially takes precedence in these pieces, conveying a very solitary icon-like image. However, upon further investigation of the sculptures and titles, one is aware of the use-value of the objects. They are positioned vertically with the assistance of a plexiglass support, as if ready to be taken off on a walk--the viewer realizes these are actually utility items, both physically and conceptually.
The concept of the walking stick initially was employed by Radawec after witnessing, on television, the Pope's visit to Colorado, where he was presented with a pair of tennis shoes and a walking stick. In white tennis shoes and with his stick, the Pope proceeded to take a walk through the woods. The iconography alluded to is well suited to Radawec's inspiration and sense of humor. The idea of having a stationary walking stick with "nature" already present is indicative of the need not to be invigorated by the natural environment, but to encapsulate it, keeping it present in a domicile or interior public space--just as postcards or paintings of visited or unvisited natural settings often give the viewer the feeling of "being there," or "having been there," allowing escape from the work-a-day world in an urban or suburban surround. One of the defining qualities of traditional landscape painting has been that it places the viewer within the scene represented. In this case, the grandeur one so often admires in the painted or photographed still natural world is humorously plucked out of context, miniaturized, harnessed and brought indoors as a kind of souvenir, not necessarily in reference to a specific experience in nature, but rather in commemoration of the moment the idea of the importance of one's presence in nature becomes articulated.
These pieces, as well as others in the exhibition, are placed where they might naturally occur. In one case, sticks lean against the wall after use. In the case of wired (another basket case), abbreviated features describe a small chrome bird, suspended in a basket above the viewer and out of reach. Conceptually, the bird exists in the realm of identification, as one who is out of reach, stationary and contained. But the generous distance between the open top of the basket and the ceiling suggests the possibility of escape. The artist initially conceived this piece in reference to the evolution of the bird from the dinosaur, thus, heading towards eventual extinction.
1-May 1970 at Reese Palley, San Francisco, California.
Los Angeles, California