Monday, May 12, 2008

Jess Adkins

Showing at the Star Gallery, Oakland Center for the Arts, is an impressive body of sculpture by the artist Jess Adkins. This ambitious show features 21 carved wooden figures displayed on the ends of steel rods. Each expressively carved figure is approximately 12 inches tall and garishly painted. The rods are over 5 feet tall, which permits the viewer to look at each figure squarely in the eye.

In his statement, Adkins says that each figure is based on people from his Youngstown neighborhood where he lived during his childhood. He says that these figures are not necessarily true, physical renderings of these people, but rather vivid impressions distilled from distant, childhood memories. But as we can all attest, our memories from our childhood are often the strongest and still haunt us through our dreams and reveries.

I found this work to be very strong and compelling. It is well thought out and constructed, not only on an expressive level, but on a fundamental design level. Adkins very economically and esthetically combines the carved wooden figures with the welded steel rods and bases.

Adkins also states that his carving skills reach back into his Appalachian roots. With the high number of Appalachian Whites (a Federally designated minority) who live in Youngstown, it is no surprise (and is certainly a pleasure) to find this cultural expression arising in our city. Despite this obvious cultural connection, Adkins work strongly reminds me of the African tradition of wood carving, specifically the Colonial Dream-Spirit figures carved by the Baule people of West Africa. The Baule develop close relationships with the mystical people that inhabit their dreams and they honor them by carving likenesses of them from wood. In recent times these carvings have taken on the accouterments of contemporay society, such as uniforms or anything that would indicate the personalities and professions of the "Dream People". They can be policemen, firemen, doctors, soldiers, housewives etc., and each is carved in a close physical likeness.

Adkins carving are very much like this, the images having been molded by his deep, subconscious, childhood memories. Each carving bears a strong resemblance to the original person and each carry the accouterments of their lives, such as Bocce balls, six packs of beer and pans of fresh baked cookies.
This show can be viewed during the performance hours of The Full Monty which s now showing at the Oakland, Friday , Saturday and Sunday starting at 8PM.

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