Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Art of Caril Chasens: Of Flesh and Of Wood
A Critique by Anthony Servante


The Artist in the Art


Caril Chasens is part of a new movement of Art (with a capital A). In music it is called "mash ups", playing two songs simultaneously to create a harmonic third piece. This is not quite new. We used to, as kids, sing Frere Jacque and Row Row Row Your Boat at the same time to harmonize the music, but did not create a new song that we recorded. It was simply two different songs that worked together for practice. Today, though, mash-up music, short stories, novels (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, for one) have created a new form. In short, Chasens create new art from wood and human idealization. She finds pieces of wood that she can sculpt into an idealized form. Here she Ms. Chasens' explanation for her artistic mash-ups.


Casting Molten Wood
by Caril Chasens
In wood, I represent human and animal figures within abstracted environment.

Right now, in the 21st century, some of us are looking at nature and at human affairs with ideas that are potent and humane.

It is no longer unusual to visualize an environment as an active interrelated system where the least can change the whole. I want art that reflects this understanding. I choose to carve sculpture from wood; the substance of wood contains, resonates with, the processes of nature and the wild complexity of the natural world.

And, we look at ourselves. It is no longer unusual to see person, people, human experience as active interrelated flow, where the smallest part is potentially active and vital. Here again, the least is potent, the whole is interrelated. Of course we share the nature of natural systems.

I proceed within a collaboration of the wood and the idea. Whether each blademark should be retained, I approach as an artist's decision. Where I sand and smooth, I seek to reveal the process of growth of the wood within the shape of the idea.

In a previous century, when I was a child, with a child's intolerance and self-absorption, I saw the sculpture...you know the one. A block of concrete. The absolutely-reduced simplicity probably did many things. To me, it snubbed details. I knew that I was a detail. Now, as an adult artist, I would say that human-including and nature-including artwork is also necessary.

I believe in wood as a medium for the 21st century. Its grain, complexity and flow resonate with natural and human systems. Wood responds to the density I look for in my work.

Woodcarving..I like to claim that I cast the stuff in molten wood.
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I now wish to share some of my favorite works by Ms. Chasens and discuss this "mash-up" molting. 


Hominidium birch burl

The wood is birch. The flesh is an idealized combination of human and ape. The deep blue eyes are life-like and quite startling if you stare at them too long. The thick brow is all gorilla, but the smile is human. The mash-up of "humanoid" features play the gray area of where the ape begins and where the human begins. By encasing this area is wood, Ms. Chasens challenges us to reconsider our perceptions about our origins. For her, this perception began in the wood, not in the man or gorilla. Thus the mash-up includes us and wood. Look at those blue eyes again. Try not to see yourself or someone strangely similar.


Horsey face pine


The wood is pine. The flesh is a combination of human and horse. Note the face is flat rather than long, yet the mane, nose, ears, and the eyes on opposite sides of the head are all horse. There is no expression, as we had with the smiling ape. Here the horse dominates the idealized flesh. That is what Ms. Chasens found in the wood, so that's what she captured. The downplay of human qualities were determined by the pine, the shape the wood had as found. So, the artist captured the horse with a flat human face. It is not as startling as the "birch" piece, but haunting nonetheless. 


Entseed


Of course, the word Ent comes from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, the tree-herders led by Treebeard. The ents already are a combination of human and tree, but Ms. Chasens takes it one step further. This is the "seed" that will become the ent. The wood is not identified, but the human features are clear: a hand and a face that will sprout into a mash-up of walking, talking tree. Even the shape of the wood the artist found looks like a big seed, a grotesque acorn. We have a bit of metonymy at work here, that is, we can see that already idealized "ent" of the famous Tolkien trilogy, but we are forced to imagine its growth from this seed, its infancy, its teens, its old age. Note, too, that it sleeps in its wood womb, awaiting birth. Here the wood is dominant, as the horse in "Horsey" and the Ape/Human in "birch burl". You can almost see the eyes ready to open and the fingers ready to spread. The wood is life, just as the seed is pre-life for the wood. 


Consider Mouse


The mash-up is wood and mouse and human. It is wonderful to see how that piece of wood held this imagining in the artist's eye and makes me wonder what the wood looked like originally. I guess it looked like a blank canvass before the paint turned it into a melting clock or Guernica. Here there are two mice: one with human likeness, the other just a mouse, but as they play off of each other, we must "consider" the idealized human behind the rodent(s). Again we have the stark eye that stares forward, the ear the size of a human and shape of a human ear, but conforming to the idealized mouse as well. It's as if the sculpture is saying, I am not a mouse, I am a mouse, but which is which, thus the title, "Consider Mouse", not "mice", but singular, for there is only one--the mash-up, of course.
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Well, I could spent all night talking about Caril Chasens' works, for I love the emotion behind the dualism of the pieces. We see that her mash-ups entail more than two elements, as music and literature do, so the art has more layers to appreciate with each viewing. I can only imagine that third layer that we are so deprived of, and that of touch. Perhaps some day I can feel the grooves and contours of the wood and human features, the animals and mythical creatures. Meanwhile, sight alone will have to do, but for this critic, I could stare at these works by Ms. Chasens all day and all night long. 

To see more art by Ms. Chasens or to purchase one of her pieces, visit this link and use the contact form at the bottom of the page. 


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