Art in America, May/June 1979, Vol. 67, N° 3, p. 148
by Wade Saunders —
Almost everything is right about the painted figurative wall reliefs that Timothy Woodman makes. They are fresh, smart, adventuresome and serious. The sculptures—generally layers of curving surfaces—are simply, quickly made: he snips out thin aluminum sheet, pop rivets it together, primes and paints with oil. He uses color to carry the pieces, not only breaking up surfaces, separating parts and reinforcing shapes, but also, in a painter’s manner, modeling the roundness of an arm, the recession of a leg. Although the reliefs are all sizes, each looks precisely scaled.
He is good at distinguishing between the way something actually is and what will suffice to render it spatially. A pine tree is shown as a succession of jagged planes shrinking away from us; his sleds support his sledders but are no more than a runner and a steering bar. Things are pared down. We see only what is necessary to the person’s task. Each writer, for instance, sits behind a table with just a page and a pen. Woodman experiments with point of view, trying to make the wall function as more than just a supporting surface. He tends to look down at the figures, so the white wall becomes the lake across which a man rows,
By hanging 50-some reliefs high and low on two walls he suggested a crowded country store. The pieces which referred specifically to New England—most obviously the historical portraits—created a context for the others, making the whole installation describe that world without looking sentimental or naive.
Woodman uses the gestural movement of his figures to convey the way a particular activity in a particular place feels. He delights in the physical. Everybody’s busy. His people have great hands and arms to do work with. The best pieces are charged: while his Melville has produced only a murky white whale in a blue sea on his page. Hawthorne has painted a sublime church, seen strangely from our point of view, not his own. By placing them near each other he reminds us of the hope that came and went between them. Treating the failure of their relation and its consequences is as yet beyond the means of the work.
A few things are wrong. He has trouble with faces. They are best when seen in profile, or obscured by a hat, for the face is too detailed for his shaping and painting. The swimmers lack logical perimeters and look ill at ease, even sliced up, in his opaque water Woodman’s washes sometimes go dead. And he isn’t up to tackling the paintings he copies: Watson and the Shark (after Copley), for example, is much less than the original. But even at their weakest his sculptures help soften the loss of those wonderful tabbed and folded sheet-metal toys that used to be so common and are now so rare.
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