“Regina is a compact, trapezoid-shaped tower, like a slender version of a ziggurat, the temple structure that spread across the Fertile Crescent three thousand years BC, which almost certainly inspired the story of the Tower of Babylon. Where ziggurats were made of sun-dried clay bricks, however, this tower is made entirely of wood stained a dark red that verges on black. Its structure consists of vertical bars that shoot up the sides like buttresses, without interruption, adding to the feeling of great height — in spite of its tabletop size. The exception to its vertical orientation is a set of short, horizontal bars that resemble steps, ascending from the center front up to a narrow window a little more than halfway up. The way the entire piece invokes a sacred building lends this opening the feel of a grand ceremonial doorway into another dimension. Whether “Regina” refers to the reigning queen, rather than the capital of a Canadian Province, isn’t a decision the viewer is required to make. The stable figure and suggestion of a window that frames another perspective could be a metaphor for royalty, while due to its location in the far North, the figure of Saskatchewan, despite its four square corners, actually tapers on the map.
In total there are 25 sculptures in What Keeps Me Up at Night, David LeCheminant’s exhibit in the George S and Dolores Doré Eccles Gallery on Salt Lake Community College’s South City Campus. They’re entirely wood, cut and assembled with finishes ranging from natural to highly polished, colors left natural or stained and painted — though in a few places manufactured woods, like wafer board, provide accents. The show immediately invokes the improvised headgear worn by Michelangelo, Goya, and others to hold candles so they could continue their art-making into pre-electric studio nights. But it also refers, in this case, to Le Cheminant’s anxiety that his largely self-directed artistic activities come without authorization from any art community. Some of them stand, like “Regina,” on their own; others sprout feet or hang on walls. Some are conventional, while others are hybrids. It seems safe to theorize that these are all the product of continual experimentation: freely associated, one from the next, in a process of sequential exploration of design and construction techniques.
Some sculptors require a wall to support their works, mechanically and aesthetically, while others struggle to create forms that are not free-standing, meant to be seen in the round. LeCheminant can make both. The most striking and ground-breaking piece here may be “Cumulonimbus,” which hangs on a wall and consists of gray, cubical lozenges that seem to explode from its center and create perspective views that defy being held in place by eye and mind. Whether it meets the definition — of a cloud such as a thunderhead that feels menacing — is for the viewer to decide. Overall, the titles, while creative, seem more for identifying the disparate works than meant to dictate meanings.
Geometry is often part of abstraction, and just as often not. In these sculptures we often see mathematical forms used on at least two scales simultaneously. A work like “Everyman” or “Spitfire” is shaped overall like a diamond — another variety of trapezoid — while its components include rectangles, triangles, and other shapes. In the works that hang on walls, a species of wood or a color or its shape may relate to or combine with other pieces around it. The mind seeks such patterns through the eye in all that we encounter in nature. Some of the parts have been carved, but whether the artist carved them or found them isn’t clear. Le Cheminant doesn’t aim for obvious likenesses, but sometimes abstraction can’t help invoking things seen in the world: except for their transparency, both “Passage” and “Monument” might recall the ever-evocative bas-reliefs of Louise Nevelson with their repeating, suggestive interiors.
Violins are usually played with a bow, though their strings can be plucked like a guitar’s. Painters tend to prefer brushes, though some use a palette knife for a different effect. LeCheminant’s use of wood primarily features its linear qualities, which give his sculptures a graphic dimension in addition to sculpture’s defining ability to organize and energetically fill space. He, too, on occasion employs a contrasting technique. In “Asymmetry of October,” often the individual pieces of wood are wide enough in proportion to their length that the grain patterns, normally a part of the stick’s linear quality, become not one- but two-dimensional fields. Here the adjacent, stick-like elements assume a supportive role, emphasized by the softening effect of having been given rounded cross-sections. A tangential thought occurs, that perhaps what keeps this artist awake at night has to do with the limits of a material that begins by generously lending a linear quality to the work, but ends by imposing it almost exclusively. What David LeCheminant might well fear is the point where a new work looks like just more of the same. That’s not a problem here, but how much longer can his imagination find new gestures and vocabulary elements, and at what point might a major break become necessary? Based on the success of What Keeps Me Up at Night, there’s every reason to anticipate what he will do then.
David LeCheminant: What Keeps Me Up at Night, George S. & Dolores Dore Eccles Art Gallery, Salt Lake Community College, Salt Lake City, through July 13