“There is a danger quality to all of these — they might be beasts, they could be animals,” says artist Shayne Dark of his exhibition Critical Mass — a grouping of towering quadruped-like sculptures fashioned out of ironwood.
The essence of Dark’s work is rooted firmly in the natural world. When he and his wife moved north of Kingston to Fourteen Island Lake 20 years ago, he was immersed in nature and soon drawn to the shapes of driftwood.
“Moving to that environment really influenced me — it was a setting that was contemplative and the materials themselves are very sculptural,” he says. (explaining how he began to collect pieces of wood) “A big pile of sticks in the studio became my art practise, essentially. It just sort of drew me in that direction.”
Part of Dark’s fascination with wood is that its natural shape is evocative to everyone. “You have people that really don’t have an art sensibility, and yet they have an emotional response to the material, an emotional response to the aesthetic of it. They may not visit museums or galleries, but they still have this reference point that we all have with nature.”
If the forms of Critical Mass don’t strike you, the colours certainly will. Dark’s palette is simple and direct, consisting mostly of a five-alarm red or a saturated blue.
“Colour is one of the easiest things to enjoy; it’s so immediate. You see a splash of red, and you don’t have to be a museum goer [to] get a feeling from it,” says Dark.
He believes the primary colours — reds, blues, yellows — have the most impact.
“The secondary colours are a little bit more complicated,” he says. “I don’t use them as much because I feel they muddy up the installation — how I want it to emote to the viewer.”
There are two exceptions: “Blizzard,” a work of slender branches exploding from a wall, is appropriately painted white, and evokes long, cold, car rides in Canadian winters; and “Windfall,” a suspended cluster of 56 apple wood gnarls, which retains its natural, soft wood hue. Other sculptures include the intense pyre of rigid curls of wood emulating flames that is “On Fire,” and a long, branchlike piece called “Out on a Limb” that droops from a wall and curls across the floor
The exhibition itself is relatively small, but each constituent part is ambitious and large-scale.
“Sculpture should work from every direction,” says Dark. “There’s no front, there’s no back to any of this work — hopefully it’s 360 degrees.”
Anyone who’s encountered a tree in their lifetime (ie. everyone) is bound to react to Critical Mass.
“We know what wood is — if it was stone or concrete, it would sit heavier, it would feel heavier,” explains Dark. “I want to be able to bring nature into the city, and hopefully the people, when they walk out of the gallery, will have an emotional response.”