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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