The L.A. Louver gallery of Venice, California hosted the a solo exhibition of new work by Matt Wedel. The exhibition, Sheep’s Head, (April 11— May 11, 2013) featured more than 20 ceramic sculptures, many of them drawing on a spectacle of scale.
In his writeup for the LA Times, David Pagel relates walking into a gallery and seeing a 10-foot-tall lamb with a human head which is too big for its body:
Made of gorgeously glazed ceramic, the massive icon stares off in three-quarter profile, dwarfing visitors while reminding us what life looked like when we were 3-feet tall: bigger and better than it does now, our experiences of its highs and lows filled with more innocent intensity than we can remember, much less recapture.
Four monumentally-scaled figurative works formed the heart of the exhibition. Inspired by the hand-painted design of a 16th century Italian bowl by Giorgio Andreoli, Wedel animates a larger-than-life figure, poised in mid-air as if rising up (or perhaps about to sit) on a stool below. A second figure, with a bulbous midriff and plump thighs, kneels on the gallery floor. And a female head that measures over 6-feet tall by 6-feet wide, its surface coated in pewter-colored luster, also rests directly on the ground, its form conjuring an Olmec sculpture. Nearby, atop a bed of succulent flowers, an animal body morphs into a human head: a towering contemporary Centaur barely contained by the almost 14-foot gallery ceiling.
Two related forms complement the large-scale figures: plants and rocks. The former, which Wedel calls “flower trees,” are of varying palette and scale, from tabletop size to more than 6-feet tall. The flower tree is a recurring subject for Wedel, who is constantly developing its form, while stretching the limits of the clay’s materiality. In this exhibition, a large faceted rock that is more than 5-feet tall and covered in a rich brown luster, takes center stage. Wedel also frequently integrates the rock form, colored with painterly splashes, into his plant sculptures. Like an eccentric botanist who experiments with hybrids in a hot house, Wedel imposes his will on his subjects, to defy the qualities of the clay.
Ambiguity is felt throughout the exhibition: while Wedel focuses on the female form, other figures appear androgynous, and the flower trees seem to be a strange cross between real succulents and science-fiction growths. Alluding to classical motifs, the sculptures are also entirely contemporary. Color is used lavishly: bright yellows, reds, greens and blues abound, and elegant browns and greys gleam with subtle complexity. Working quickly – he states “clay abolishes the time lag between the idea and the object” – Wedel’s prolific output expresses his vivid imagination and formal inventiveness.
Wedel was born and raised in Colorado, but works at his studio in Athens, Ohio, where he mans a massive kiln alone. The work exhibited in Sheep’s Head was done by Wedel over a one-year period.
Image Above: Installation view of Matt Wedel’s Sheep’s Head at L.A. Louver, Venice, California in 2013. Courtesy of the artist and L.A. Louver.