I hope Ryan Walker doesn't take offense but the art he's showing at Mount Ida College is junk. No kidding. Literal junk.
I hope Ryan Walker doesn't take offense but the art he's showing at Mount Ida College is junk.
No kidding. Literal junk.
Like an alchemist, he transforms throwaway scrap like glazing points, paint rollers and paper bags into deeply personal art.
In the art world where there's already plenty of junk, critics might describe Walker's work as found art, installations or assemblages.
Visitors might call them original, puzzling or intriguing. Sometimes all of them. Possibly none.
In an exhibit titled "The Recycler," 26 of Walker's hard-to-define works dangle from the ceiling like seeded clouds, creep up gallery walls like geckos or squat in the Newton college's gallery like toys gone immobile.
The exhibit runs through Dec. 7.
The show takes its multi-leveled title from Walker's insistence on making his art from "recycled material, detritus," that he's saved, salvaged or collected.
Not only is his art eco-friendly because it doesn't use new materials, he said, but it's a cost-effective way for artists to work.
"I am able to find beauty, inspiration and potential in the colors, textures and shapes of used and abused materials," Walker wrote in an artist's statement for this show.
Consequently, viewers upon first seeing works like "Weapons of Pleasure" or "Playhouse" might have the double-edged reaction of wondering how Walker made each piece and then wondering what it might mean.
That's part of the fun and sometimes part of the problem.
Assembled from paper bags and bits of plastic, the hanging "Playhouse" looks something like its name.
A viewer might wonder, or even marvel, at the patience, dexterity and imagination that prompted its conception and completion.
What then? Does it mean more than its environmentally safe origins or unraveling Walker's own complex aesthetic and goals?
Perhaps the artist is inviting viewers to consider how much art, however beautiful or profound, contributes to environmental degradation.
Walker said many of his pieces have been constructed in large part or entirely from earlier works of his own he's "cannibalized" and then re-worked.
"The more interventions I made in the materials, the more interesting the work becomes as new details and idiosyncrasies are revealed," he wrote. "I'm interested in blurring the distinction between materials and 'finished' artwork."
In effect, Walker seems to be suggesting viewers experience or enjoy the complicated, no doubt arduous "process" by which he turned a scrap of belt into "Weapons of Pleasure.' But what, if anything, does that enigmatic object mean?
Perhaps Walker is playing the trickster artist to nudge viewers into considering the varied ways they look upon art as something traditionalists claim is supposed to have a meaning beyond its construction.
Maybe he wants to deflate old notions of art's deep meaning by suggesting the personal fun that goes into making it, like a child building forts and castles from scrap objects found in the family garage.
Viewers must decide if that's enough.
On first entering the gallery, they'll pass through nine untitled pieces dangling from the ceiling like airborne bursts of form and color. Be careful not to step on or stumble over "A Clumsy Landmark," a colorful suitcase-sized profusion of bits and pieces of vaguely recognizable scrap sculpted into something that could be a modernistic city in a sci-fi movie or yesterday's trash.
Near the gallery center, several hanging pieces - sometimes twirled by visitors' movements - form "Cloud II," a work you can walk through at eyebrow level. Appearing to have been made from pink Styrofoam, the multi-dimensional "Mover" squats on the floor like a very colorful and tactile visitor from Planet X.
Gallery director Kathleen Driscoll, who organized the exhibit, said she'd been interested in showing Walker's work since seeing it last year because it challenged common perceptions about installation art.
An art professor and the college's gallery director, she said the exhibit nudges viewers into considering how Walker's pieces "explore, rethink and transform" objects initially made for a specific use into a "totally new usable form."
For Driscoll, Walker's art exemplifies "the sculptor's ability to combine contradictory material and meaning."
"The experience of viewing each small sculpture is as intimate as it is surprising as we recognize parts of a familiar object that is joined incongruously to other objects," she said.
In some ways, Walker has assembled his own artistic persona, like the TV action hero Angus MacGyver, by turning commonplace things into something entirely new that inspires wonder.
Time will tell whether Walker gets his own series or ends up in re-runs.
Mount Ida College is at 777 Dedham St., Newton. The Gallery at Mount Ida College is Carlson Hall. It is wheelchair accessible.
It is open Tuesday through Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m.
For the Thanksgiving holidays, it will be closed through Nov. 30.
For information, call Kathleen Driscoll at 617-928-4654.