John Cross: Sculpture
John Davis Gallery
330 West 38 Street
New York, NY 10018
February 3 – February 26, 2005
According to F. David Martin, in his great book “Sculpture & Enlivened Space,” haptic perceptions are “feelings of things and events inside the skin.” On one level John Cross wants the viewer to discover the lovely patterns and shapes that exist beneath the bark of the tree or to appreciate the curvature of a tree trunk or branch. On another level he wants us to realize the potentiality of his chosen medium, wood.
“Twist,” 2004, “Squeeze,” 2005, and “Skirt,” 2001, are not meant to be viewed in the round. The creamy white surfaces of these sculptures reveal a state of becoming. These bark-less, chiseled and sanded tree trunks are stained with watered down, white latex paint. The layer of white paint is not opaque, so we can still make out the patterns and irregularities in the sapwood layer of the white pines that were used. Cross is a meticulous craftsman. The surfaces of these sculptures are translucent, similar to a face that has make-up applied to it. The burls and squiggly wood grain maintain a ghostly presence. The latex paint does transform the wood in the sense that the viewer can read it as paper or cloth or even marble. The thin rods these sculptures are supported by emphasize their classicism, but the references to Greek columns, torsos and busts linger in the viewer’s mind only briefly, until the abstract qualities of the work dominate our vision.
Cross enunciates the inner beauty of the tree, by carving rows of lines into the wood, which create concave or convex strips. These lines set up a fluidic and direct rhythm that emphasizes the flow of the wood grain. Because of their flat tops and the linear patterns, which are uninterrupted from top to bottom of the sculptures, these tree fragments project into the empty space directly above them. As ghostly or otherworldly as these sculptures seem, the viewer can’t forget the presence of the wood. Cross’ modifications suppress as much as they enhance the accidents of nature, and his delicate chisel work activates the surface by setting up a dialogue between his modifications and the word grain submerged beneath the paint. Cross honors the origins of the material by forcing us to study these surfaces as if they were paintings. The merging of artifice and nature is never awkward, and generates ambiguities. Are we looking at architectural forms or the clothed/unclothed human form? These white sculptures celebrate the mutability of wood.
To make the sculpture “Crossing,” 2001, Cross cut out the interior of a curved branch, put the hollowed out branch back together, and then connected interior and exterior to form an X. The X is raised at the center and the four arms of the X rest directly on the floor. Very few natural materials would allow for this type of manipulation. The interior is just as strong as the exterior. The contrast between the blocky edges of the interior of the branch and the more raw looking exterior section makes us think about the origin of the form, the ways in which inside relates to outside, and how the final curvature of the branch came into being.
“Dissected Burl,” 2004, consists of four thin slices of a tree trunk with a pronounced burl arranged like compass points and held together with crisscrossing pieces of planed 2x4s that have been screwed together and form a sort of lattice work. So again there is a strong contrast between wood that has been shaped by humans, and wood that has been unmodified, with its impurities intact. This process of making visible what is normally invisible, is a revelation, an opportunity for us to examine the circulatory system of a tree that has been lodged into a sculptural whole. The inside of the tree becomes the inside of the sculpture. Cross lets us see the weird light and dark brown blossoms and streaks in the light colored meat of the tree in a purely graphic sense. These streaks reveal the path water took when traveling from the ground to the crown of the tree. Even though we are presented with four individual slices of the tree trunk, these irregularities are repeated, with slight variation, in each slice. A whole is divided and then brought together again within the unity of the sculptural whole. In this sculpture Cross preserves a part of each layer of the tree, from outer bark to heartwood.
With “Hogan,” 2004, Cross uses the curvature of a trunk that has been sliced into four thin sections to suggest a Navajo Indian dwelling. This time the horizontal supports which hold the four trunk sections in place are more prominent and the four sections of trunk are close in tone to the 2×4 supports, so the support system and legs are unified. The four legs or sections of tree trunk converge towards a central point but never meet, and this is a symbol of protection and shelter. The horizontal supports block off the empty space between the legs, and only allow thin slits of open space to be visible in its center. In this sculpture Cross preserves, and was inspired by, the curvature of the trunk.
Cross lives on a farm in a rural setting, and through his empathy for the materials, he changes the interiors of trees into the personal inner spaces of his sculptures. These sculptures equate the inner workings of the natural world with the inner workings of the artist’s psyche.