Artful Bodger

Sculptor Christopher Romer reclaims woodworking.

Anyone who went gaga over Martin Puryear’s eclectic historicism,
stunning craftsmanship, and visual wit at SFMOMA last year should check
out Christopher Romer‘s small but impressive show, 3AM:
Under the Full Moon
. An East Bay newcomer, Romer, like Puryear,
draws on vernacular subcultures, employing traditional tools, at least
in part. But this is no mere artisanship for artisanship’s sake:
Romer’s wooden sculptures, which synthesize figuration and abstraction,
contrasting the rough-hewn with the polished, make a strong case for
informed, disciplined eclecticism.

Romer’s digital-age commitment to woodworking has proven fertile.
Novelist Jonathan Franzen (poaching on the art preserve, like the
shameless Updike), sees America as a landscape of domesticated lumber,
“a riot of wood … whole towns of wood, utility poles hewn from pine
trees, towers of hardwood pallets in loading docks, forests of
two-by-fours and glades of plywood at every construction site.” “A
Bodger’s Bounty” and “Untitled” are wall-mounted sculptures composed of
clustered wooden pods suggesting buoys, balloons, grapes, insect eggs,
and grains. Their lustrous surfaces are striated through laborious
painting, scraping, and sanding to suggest plumage, foliage, and animal
pelts. (A bodger was an itinerant woodworker who transformed stands of
birch trees in Victorian England into drawknife-shaped,
pole-lathe-turned legs, which makers of Windsor chairs purchased. These
reclusive rural craftsmen, who lived in wattle-and-daub lean-tos called
bodger hovels, were likened to nocturnal badgers; bodging in
contemporary slang means doing a job with what is at hand —
improvising.)

Romer’s improvisations on the folk traditions of decoy carving,
birdhouse carpentry, and barn raising, create “a new world where
historicisms collide, erupting into captivating and fantastic forms,”
writes J. Susan Isaacs. For Franzen, the works individually and
collectively suggest “an unruly and buggy Nature thrusting up through a
non-too-solid veneer of civilization … wild things … abuzz with
their strange conversations.” The parental pod/potato in “The Woods Are
Full of Them,” patched together from various woods, studded with brads,
and resting atop a small pallet, hosts a half-dozen excrescent bobbing
baby buds, as smoothly enameled in silver and teal as medicine
capsules. The “Silver Buds” pieces invoke duck decoys, bowling pins,
ratchet handles, and jugglers’ Indian clubs, while the flock of fish
forms in the two “Night Radiant” suspended wooden cages, lashed to
wooden boulders, combine elegant stylization with a hint of Surrealist
menace. 3AM: Under the Full Moon runs through November 15 at
The Compound Gallery (6604 San Pablo Ave., Oakland). Tea with
artist happens Sunday, Nov. 15, 3-6 p.m. 510-655-9019 or TheCompoundGallery.com

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