Henchman #6, 16 ½ in. in height. All pieces are earthenware with stain. Images Courtesy of Gallery lMA, Seattle. Photos: Richard Nicol.
Henchman #1, 16 ½ in. in height.
Henchman #3, 16 ½ in. in height.
Figurehead #3, 23 in. in height.
Figurehead #2, 23 in. in height.
|Paul Metivier’s Seattle, Washington solo debut at Gallery IMA (www.galleryima.com) followed seven years after his 2001 graduation from the University of Washington graduate program in ceramics. He subsequently taught at Bellevue and Green River community colleges nearby. The dozen or so stained earthenware sculptures revolved around human heads on pedestal-posts or wall-mounted and clusters of bird beaks (some of which were raku-fired) also mounted on the wall. The results were uniformly dark, foreboding, and very promising.
Perhaps building on the dreary, grotesque works of his professor at UW, figurative sculptor Doug Jeck, Metivier is more reductive and direct. Although he has claimed narrative as an important dimension in his work, narrative implies plot, and with only one figure each, there can be no plot-hence, no narrative.
Instead, the viewer is confronted with strikingly lifelike heads of Caucasian and African-American males that have undergone considerable physical assaults of some sort: battering, firing, puncturing, and hacking. With such attacks, as in the 2007 Henchman and the 2008 Figurehead series, the viewer witnesses the aftermath of violence, but, poised and self-possessed, the heads appear as if they were trophy animal heads in a hunting lodge.
Henchman #6 has embedded nails in its shoulders in the vein of indigenous African art that wards off evil spirits. Henchman #1 and Henchman #3 have vertical incisions slicing the surfaces of their foreheads, cheeks, and necks. All the facial expressions are calm and forthright, staring into the viewer’s eyes. The capacity for physical pain and suffering in such expressions suggests they could be victims of physical torture, for example. In the age of Guantánamo Bay, they are political and timely.
Figurehead #2 and Figurehead #3 seem more ceremonial with their wall-mounting and extended torsos or patterned bibs. Relief carving on the chest of #2 creates a collar and shirt while #3 has dreadlocks and a chest that resembles aging wood, as if a coffin or ship’s prow ornament. Part of Metivier’s power with these heads lies in his clever material illusionism. They appear more wood than clay.
Also wall-mounted, the bird beaks are less interesting and less successful. They lack a convincing composition other than random clumping together, as in Cluster #3 (2008), or set in irregular rows, as in The Council #1-7 (2008). More reminiscent of specimens in natural history museums, these works need to join a crow’s head to become complete, add hundreds more beaks, or go back to the studio for rest and reconsideration.
Next to the strength of the heads that were the show’s central motif, the beaks lack their own comparable power. Regardless, Metivier, now 43, is bound to expand, extend and refine the advances of this debut. A greater darkness inherent in the natural world is always worth exploring further.
the author Matthew Kangas, a frequent contributor to CM, also writes for Art in America, Sculpture, and Art Ltd.