Points of View - Small Worlds, Small Wonders
Written by MFA student Aj Cooke, Points of View explores local gallery exhibitions in order to spark an open and accessible exchange of ideas and nurture collective intelligence about the art being created and displayed in our community.
Small Worlds, Small Wonders - a collection of works by Matt Loeks and Ryan Weiss
Craft House Gallery
May 24 – June 27
Billed as an exploration of “the visible and invisible magic in nature and environment,” “Small Worlds, Small Wonders” is the debut exhibition of Matt Loeks’ and Ryan Weiss’ newest work at Craft House gallery. The promotional image for the show, a wooden skull propped over a miniature forest of lush green trees, led me to imagine tiny fantastical landscapes that visually entertain with meticulous craftsmanship, covering the gallery like a blanket of crazy genius.
I was half right.
"Small Worlds, Small Wonders" is on display Craft House gallery until June 27
First, I’d like to note that Craft House was near capacity during the opening reception, which was full of people and positive energy. It was clear that the public liked what they saw (and purchased). But despite such success, I wanted more.
Ryan Weiss’ miniature sculptural landscapes (that’s what I am calling them anyway, and I’m going to run with it) seem too confined and segregated. My two personal favorites – “From The Forest Through The Trees” (acrylic, branches, fiber, spray paint, wire, and wood), and “Trout Fishing With Blake” (acrylic and wood) – blend architectural elements and natural forms in assemblages shaped as secluded retreats, but I felt they could only be fully realized as part of a larger connection of structures. This disconnect fuels my need for more; I want to see the mad mad genius of intersecting paradises translated into an entire universe.
“From The Forest Through The Trees” by Ryan Weiss
"Trout Fishing with Blake" by Ryan Weiss
Similarly, I wanted to know more about the process behind Matt Loeks’ work. The most successful of Loeks’ woodcuts are the botanical-like compositions that invite the viewer to imagine the origin of the image. A couple standout picks include “Behind Closed Eyes” and “Dr. Hoffman’s Garden.” Both pieces are woodcut reliefs with acrylic paint, and they capture the eye and create visual rhythm with incredibly focused detail, merging patterns into one another so easily it looks like a biological wonder. But why?
"Dr. Hoffman's Garden" by Matt Loeks
Unsatisfied with the one-note description, I contacted both Weiss and Loeks for some much needed explanation. Both artists’ processes involve planned compositions as well as spontaneous responses, with Loeks regarding his work in “Small Worlds, Small Wonders” as “the most intuitive that I have done yet. … The pieces seemed to grow naturally on their own. … ” Likewise, Weiss explains that inspiration for him is just as fluid; an artwork may begin with a sketch or “more of a vision that I end up collaborating with the material on as the piece comes together. …” My intrigue was piqued by both artists’ response to the chosen material: wood.
Weiss and Loeks each construct the illusion of a natural environment through the manipulation of an organic substance. Their work is a classic case of human control over nature – wild beauty on our own terms. Meditating on this relationship, Weiss says, “I wanted to explore the dichotomy of the delicacy and resilience and how both parties can live in harmony and also in opposition of each other.” Loeks’ states that his work depicts “a small microcosm or environment crawling with life.” Still, the notion of celebrating nature by manufacturing artificial biomes feels problematic to me (but is, in this case, admittedly beautiful).
Perhaps I’m asking too much from an exhibition that is clearly successful in many ways, and perhaps I was more than half right when predicting (and hoping for) this show to entertain an expectation of child-like fantasy, insane skill, and visual magic. After all, Weiss even concedes that “in the end, I’m just building little getaways for the viewers and myself to visit and explore,” and they do just that.
So as a final note, I’d like to encourage Weiss and Loeks to keep building, and consider providing the viewer(s) additional access to their process which can be just as (if not more) important than the objects themselves.