The potential for a gourd extends far beyond dinner fare or a fall decoration. As the exhibition Gourd as Art proved, gourds also make for provocative art.
Through the exhibit the Wisconsin Gourd Society, a not-for-profit organization founded in 2005, showcases techniques including carving, pyrography, painting, inks, assemblage and sculpture to present gourds in a light that might seem uncharacteristic to many viewers. The society of 150 artists also works to inform about the unique role of gourds in culture, music, history and horticulture.
The placard at the entrance of the installation describes the art at “abstract, functional and frivolous.” The three adjectives aptly capture the mood of the exhibit — even the pieces classified as “functional” have been crafted with a touch of whimsy that accompanies the use of unconventional art materials.
Sharon Donahue’s vibrant sculpture “Spirit Woman” can be easily situated within the abstract category set forth by the placard. Donahue depicts a woman holding a bouquet of shells and dressed in an assortment of animal print fabrics. In creating the work, Donahue used pyrography and assemblage artfully. While at first the feathers, beads and patterns may strike viewers as incongruous, it is difficult to resist the allure of the work.
And upon closer inspection, gallery patrons will warm to the intricacies of Donahue’s design. Visually absorbing the complexities of “Spirit Women” is much akin to walking through an antique shop and finding beauty amidst the clutter.
It’s also worthwhile to explore Donahue’s use of gourds as anatomical components of the sculpture’s body. The head and neck of the sculpture reinterprets a traditional motif used to create the illusion of beauty in art. Artists in Renaissance Italy often painted their female patrons with disproportionately long necks because, according to the visual aesthetics of the time, viewers considered the technique attractive.
Phil Ward’s “Clock” and “Lamp” represent the functional component of the exhibit. Among the other artists featured, Ward’s work stand’s out for its elegant simplicity and clever incorporation of other natural components. The gourd Ward manipulated to resemble glazed pottery serves as the clock’s face. The molted and metallic veneer of the clock in combination with an antler mounted above the face contributes to the rustic elegance of the piece.
Ward’s “Lamp” also demonstrates his keen talent for impactful yet subtle effects. Ward carved the top of a gourd into a lampshade and left the stem intact reinforcing the understated beauty of the piece. A design inked on the lampshade and an outstretched hand carved from the base of the lamp also adds character.
Phil Ward’s “Flash Gourdan” sculpture exemplifies the adjective frivolous, the final word used to describe Gourd as Art. Ward’s sculpture cut, carved and painted to look like a character in a rocket ship makes clever use of the gourd’s shape and is crafted so realistically it will no doubt remind audiences of an antique toy.
Besides representing the descriptions abstract, functional and frivolous, the exhibit celebrates the untouched beauty evident in the natural world. Some gourds have been purposefully left in their raw form such as “Naturally Conjoined Gourds” and another gourd that grew in the shape of a knot.
While the exhibit presents much talent for audiences to digest, other pieces may confuse art aficionados. Unlike some works in the exhibit, the contrasting colors and textures of the materials Barb Rothwell used to create “Night and Day Mask” do not elevate the art but instead degrade from its quality and overall aesthetic appeal.
Despite some misses, Gourd as Art presents a delectable display of art for audiences to digest.
The exhibit runs in Gallery III at the Overture Centre for the Arts now through April 3.