Displaying Woodcarving as Art

A tutorial...Caril Chasens

One probably has to approach the gallery, if one wants an exhibition of ones work. Occasionally they may come to you, but you are certainly not expected to wait for that.

Particularly when starting out, showing with other people may be the way to go. Some community exhibits are open to whoever is interested. Or, one could get together with other carvers, or with painters and such, and organize something. The trick is to find a venue that is appropriate for the work.

I don't want to make this unnecessarily complicated, or to discourage anybody. The bottom line is - stick the work out there for people to see. Get into the complications only if you want to. All the following suggestions are optional.

People can and do show anything they want to as art. It is very easy to criticize some of the stuff out there as pure empty bullshit. This must be true sometimes, because it is sometimes true of all the things people do. However, I have learned not to be too sure. Once, as I was talking to the artist, suddenly I really saw, saw a work that, a moment before had left me cold, and I was blown away.

Setting up a display, I don't expect the work to be quick or easy. Fiddling with the arrangement and lighting can make a big difference.

Regular or centered arrangements need to be fairly precise. However, things often look better when they are definitely irregular and not centered. If improvement is needed, try moving things further from the center, and away from any regular arrangement. There may be an issue of balance. A principle that can be used as roughly or as delicately as you like is that something small, further from the center, can balance something larger, closer to the center.

Small work sometimes looks lost and ineffective in a large space. If small pieces look good together, one may be able to solve the problem by clustering them.

A pedestal for a carving, or some kind of backing to isolate it on a wall, can also work. Or, find an appropriate nook for a small carving.

Carvings are likely to look best if given plenty of space, so avoid crowding unless you like, want, or can't avoid crowding. Sculptures with very strong lines often demand more space in a particular direction, and will look much better if one pays attention to this.

Also, one can pay attention to the way the sculptures go together, both in appearance and in the whole business of how one reacts to them. "The installation" can refer to an overview, including the artwork and the space it is in. Calling an exhibit an installation can imply that the way it works as a whole is at least as important as the parts.

There is something to be said for having an idea that unites an exhibition. Ones reason for showing the collection together might be a good enough idea.

A reason for preferring a real art gallery to, for instance, an old emptied out drugstore, is the lighting. I don't much like ordinary fluorescent lighting on wood; I find it flat and cold. A gallery may have lots of lights that can be individually moved and directed to get the best lighting for each piece. Lighting makes a difference; fool with the direction and angle.

Also, a gallery may, with luck, come with a director who is experienced and skilled in installing exhibitions, who can be an enormous help. I have been lucky, to have worked with Eve Hope, when she was director of the Northwest National Exhibition Centre, and then Ksan Museum, in Hazelton B.C.

It is important, for best results, that surfaces in the background look ok with the work. If the surface of pedestal or table looks crappy, cover it with cloth, or even paper or card. Particularly with wall-hung carvings, it really helps if the wall surface is satisfactory.

Visual Separation: it often helps to float a carving just above the surface it rests on. Slip something underneath, so it doesn't show. For instance, a piece of plywood, cut smaller than the base of the carving. Darken the edges, so that it vanishes into the shadow.

Unfortunately, one may need to consider security. Sometimes, one might fasten pieces down or resort to displaying behind glass. Some work should be displayed above the reach of small children.

One can add text if one wants to. A common way of doing this is to make copies of an artists statement, in which one can say whatever one pleases. I generally like to put a brief statement about each piece on the walls near the carvings. I have used convenient picture-framing systems to display the text, have also resorted to gluing the paper to stiff card and tacking it to the wall.

Writing just because I want to.... It is not unusual for some galleries to show installations that feature many copies of the same image. For instance - the magazine Artfocus is at my hand. An installation by Cathy Cahill features a sea of little clay doggies. They are rather crude; can't tell from the photo whether they are crude, as in brilliant simplicity, or crude, as in doesn't quite make it. The loving little knitted hats on all the doggy heads - they kind of get to me. Now - I have noticed that there are carvers who get together in a class or club or something and all turn out a copy of the same image. If a collection of these were shown together, I would be interested in the differences that would develop under people's hands, interested in how the carvers feel in being part - nowadays - of the ancient process of making copies by hand, interested in the many reactions to the choice of subject, in all the implications of the subject. In the role of the person who developed the design, and in the influence on that person of the feedback from students. And, the dynamics of the group. And.

Woodcarving and sculpture tutorials

Sculpture in Wood, Caril Chasens