Sunday, February 27, 2011

Lost Little Boys and Sad Little Girls: The Dark Surrealism of Gehard Demetz

I discovered German/Italian artist Gehard Demetz's wooden sculpture back in 2007 when I was working on a series of drawings involving trees and wood grains, and was looking for inspiration. His pieces floor me. They're terrifying and hypnotic, and you can't look away from them. It's a very contemporary take on surrealism, quieter and more unsettling. Beautiful.

I think Demetz falls into that category of artists who (either intentionally or unintentionally) build a mystique up around them. He's no Banksy, but he keeps a low profile. To my knowledge, he's never released any kind of a formal artist statement-- a brief interview with Luigi Fassi is as close as we come, and the information in that conversation is mostly referential to process, not artistic program or subject matter. Precious little is known about that, and about Demetz himself. We know he was born in Italy in 1972, and that he lives and works in Selva di Val Gardena, where he taught for a decade before becoming a full-time artist. He exhibits mostly in Europe, and I've never seen his sculpture in person, but luckily high-quality photographs of it are in no short supply.

Demetz has said before that memories of being "enchanted" by monumental religious statuary influence his work, as do ideas about good and evil, and their fluidity as we grow from infancy to adulthood. That's about as detailed as he gets, but I think I'm ok with it-- there's something appropriate about these nameless children remaining elusive.

The works are striking as a whole, for sure, but if you get up close to them, you can see where he's mixed polished and rough wood-blocks to make a patchwork ghost of a human being, silent and small and fading on the edges. These are the ghosts of children from a forgotten orphanage a million years ago, distant and strange like the gods of Egyptian tombs, but completely sentient. You know that chill you get when you see human eyes peering out from beneath a mask whose occupant is unknown? That's how I feel about Demetz's children.

P.S. Check out his titles. They're poetry.

I Hear the Spirit While I Whisper (2007)
The Mouth Full of Stars (2006)
Your Monsters Are Just Like Mine (2006)
My Headphones Save My Life (2006)

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