Shayne Dark and Daniel Hughes: Forced Nature
Text by Amber Berson
Kingston, Ontario based artists Shayne Dark and Daniel Hughes have never previously collaborated. Long time admirers of each other’s art, Dark – a sculptor and woodworker making fantastical objects reflecting nature – and Hughes – a painter with a background in realist portraiture and an interest in more painterly and abstracted motifs – collaborated for this exhibition at Art Mûr as a means of expanding and complicating their work. Adding an extra dimension to each of their long established practices, the collaborative exhibit grew out of both a residency (for Dark) at MacLachlan Woodworking Museum in Kingston and a shared workshop over the course of six months last year.
Hughes’s drawings and paintings are reflections on Dark’s sculptures. They don’t so much as illustrate the work as they do present an alternate vantage point. Dark creates sculptures intended to be observed from multiple perspectives. Viewers are invited to walk around, and often through, the pieces. In Hughes’s work, however, a single angle is visible and deeply explored. This micro/macro viewing allows us, the viewer, to experience Dark’s art through a new lens. Hughes is not just redrawing Dark’s sculptures, or re-presenting the obvious. His drawings illustrate the feeling that the sculptures emit. Transforming a three-dimensional object into a two-dimensional drawing, Hughes captures the complicated emotions that Dark conjures – at once dark and unfamiliar, yet strangely human and alive.
Dark presents a variety of large-scale work in this exhibition. Heroes are a series of large-scale, painted black wood forms. Each appears as a column, trunk or body, standing guard in the museum. Force of Nature is a blue wall work. It appears as an organic growth on the gallery wall and is created with the branches of dying trees. While the material itself is dead, the work appears very much alive. Windfall is an installation piece made up of several apple tree root balls, mounted to the ceiling or placed on the floor. The shapes are reminiscent of human organs and are very warm. Finally, Dark is exhibiting the MacLachlan Woodworking Museum Series #1 & #6, created from a single urban maple tree which the artist burnt and altered in front of a live audience at the museum over six weeks. Hughes responds directly to Heroes and Windfall. Exhibited together, the sculptures come together as pieces of bodies – unanimated but strangely living, a mass of forms reminiscent less of branches than of humans.
The collaborative process is as important to the two artists as is the finished work. Exploring the materials and letting them speak trumps pre-meditating a finished product. When Dark speaks about his process, he speaks as if the wood is an animal and he is a hunter. Nothing is wasted; everything is used – from the sawdust to the tiny bits of wood, which fall off the larger sculpture. In the same vein, Dark takes inspiration from the tree, letting it speak to him before taking action. The reverential attitude that both artists take to their work borders on obsessive. However, it is through this process that Hughes and Dark erase any preciousness from their process and give over to organic material development.