originally published: February 10, 2017


Legend has it that architect Bruce Graham was asked to explain the stability for the design of what would be the Sears (Willis) Tower in Chicago. Graham gathered a fistful of cigarettes and pushed the interior cigarettes upwards, “higher” than the exterior pieces.  The bundled tube system for a 108-story building was demonstrated with a handful of cigarettes at a lunch table. Simple gestures, executed properly, can allow us to dream big.

Picasso’s Guernica started with this 8x10” sketch. It is easy as a viewer to reverse engineer Guernica to arrive at this sketch. The key elements are roughly established in what will be their final compositional positioning. It is another thing altogether to look at this sketch and move forward to the mural-sized masterpiece. Picasso made Guernica. Someone else could make a giant painting of a basketball court.


A recorded gesture is evidence of a human at work. It is a result of a specific, hand-driven thought process. We think differently when our hands are in motion. Thought moves beyond theory to action and therefore receives feedback based on what the hand is doing.  We assign value to what is being created and respond accordingly. 

Hans Schmitt-Matzen’s exhibition at the David Lusk Gallery, The Leviathan, uses this initial flash of thought and movement as a jumping-off point for a series of white neon sculptures, black or white wall-mounted wood sculptures and prints. Leviathan, the mysterious sea creature of Biblical and literary legend, serves as a symbol for the unknown at work “deep down” in our mark making and gestures. Is there something unconscious guiding our motions, something at our primary source of being human?

Rather than use his own gestures, something that might be too self-conscious as a methodology, Schmitt-Matzen borrows marks from his son’s artwork. He curates, isolates, freezes and expands upon his son’s marks. In the same way that Picasso had to expand upon his first sketch of Guernica, Schmitt-Matzen does have to impose a certain “adult” logic into the process. His son’s sketches are data for sculpture. A child’s concept of line is not going to be accurately captured in the bending of neon tubing or wood. The decision to create something from these drawings demands an act of translation. Decisions have to be made and directions in marks have to be interpreted and refined. The show is also achromatic, devoid of the overt emotional pull of color. This decision can keep the work at arm’s length. It is successful in removing the childlike nature of the work’s inspiration. This is not art made with a youthful spirit. It may start in the hand of a child but it is, at its heart, an interpretation of primal instinct, not juvenile dexterity.  Negotiating that space between immediacy and logical reconsideration is what makes the work both approachable and unknowable. The language is familiar but the expression remains mysterious.



Schmitt-Matzen also assigns meaning to the works through their titles. A bottom-heavy swirl with extending, upward-moving “appendages” is titled Hydra. To the informed viewer, yes, the abstracted hydra is there. Other sculptures reference additional mythological creatures, mushrooms or animals. Perhaps a little cloud spotting is necessary as a preliminary way of defining something that we cannot easily measure. Our desire to find images in forms that are otherwise spontaneous and irregular is a simple way for us to wrestle with larger ideas out of our reach. We assign names to complex ideas, almost as placeholders until we are smart enough to truly understand it. This injection of meaning to what is beyond our comprehension brings us back to the Leviathan. Yes, the Leviathan can be a part of the larger unknown. It can feel like a mystery that should be pursued but, ultimately, Leviathan is dangerous. Chapter 41 of Job describes Leviathan as a creature with no earthly equal and possessed of no fear. It rules over all that are proud. Job could not defeat Leviathan if challenged and Job certainly cannot defeat Satan. He possesses neither the intellect nor the strength. God can defeat Satan. God can defeat Leviathan because God created Leviathan. What is unknowable to us as humans is not necessarily unknowable to something smarter than humans. Job can comprehend of Leviathan and name it but never wrestle with it and succeed. We can analyze our mysterious depths but there is a risk of stumbling upon a monster more powerful than us when we get too deep.

John Calvin, in Institutes, explains our relationship to God as an all-knowing force adjusting His language, dumbing it down, so that we might understand: “For who is so devoid of intellect as not to understand that God, in so speaking, lisps with us as nurses are wont to do with little children?” A handful of cigarettes can be used to “lisp” to a less knowledgeable partner. Our children’s untrained drawings can be reimagined by an adult mind as a complex sculpture. These exercises make the complex simple and conversely can also add layers of meaning into what might be dismissed as elementary. What can help save us from the Leviathan, what can keep us from being subject to the one that is “king over all that are proud” is to remember that our most glorious skyscraper is merely a handful of cigarettes to someone that lisps to us but also finds glory in our simple marks.

Tags hans schmitt-matzenleviathandavid lusk gallerynashvillesculpture


originally published: February 6, 2017


Leia: But why must you confront him?

Luke: Because there is good in him. I've felt it... I can save him… I have to try.

 - Return of the Jedi

Is Luke not expressing himself fully or does the dialogue for Return of the Jedi exercise restraint and assume the audience understands the subtext? Luke wants there to be good left in Vader- for Vader to have a shot at redemption. Is that all? No. Yoda wants Luke to confront his own fear that he is capable of evil and has the potential to misuse his gifts. Luke wants Vader to be good so he himself can be good. Can Luke own his fear and conquer it?

Reading Alex Lockwood’s statement for the Awful Things exhibition at Zeitgeist Gallery suggests that similar issues are at work. Can Lockwood confront his past, control it and speak beyond it?


Awful Things is dark, pathetic, comical collection of larger-than-life sculptures where no figure is left undisturbed, unmolested or intact. Each figure (aside from the killer and the next, terrified victim) is gutted, bisected, impaled or strung up with fishhooks. It is reminiscent of Goya’s Disasters of War but Lockwood is not a painter or a printmaker and is not reflecting on observed events. There is no war, no Napoleonic invasion. His chosen sculptural mediums are everyday consumer objects. Figures are constructed from colorful trashcans, containers, cups, bowls and a larger, less immediately recognizable palette of mass-produced plastics. Fecal matter, urine, tears, blood and entrails are made from thousands of strung together plastic caps and circular bits. It is not messy or gory. It is rhythmic, playful and somewhat craft-like in its construction. The material and bright colors disarm the viewer.

From a distance, the installation appears to be whimsical. The first figure that greets visitors is a relaxed, reclining large red figure. He appears cheerful and inviting. It is not immediately apparent that his satisfaction is based on the actions that lie behind him and that you potentially are the next victim. Instead the work, at first, could read like something from a children’s museum or an ambitious Christmas installation for a department store window. It is too late for the viewer when the subjects and action come into focus. The audience is already seduced by the material and has no choice but to confront the content. The smile slowly retreats.

Each figure is subject to a unique style of torture and there seems to be no escape from a painful death. We are aware that this has all happened and continues to this day. We know of modern torture from the news - depictions of Abu Ghraib being most Westerners frame of reference. ISIS/ISIL, Boko Haram and C.A.R. militias go beyond that on a monthly basis. We know of ancient torture from illustration and historical documentation. There are museums dedicated to feeding our hobbyist curiosity for how real people were torn limb from limb centuries ago. History shows that this behavior is our inescapable nature. Humans are capable of awful things no matter the level of morality that our civilizations project. 

Not only are we capable of these actions in our darkest moments but we also enjoy these things as entertainment in our most peaceful hours. Why? Spy movies usually build up to a scene of torture. In Spectre, Bond has a miniature drill driven into his neck and temple. The Passion of the Christ turns the one verse of the Gospel (pick either Matthew or Mark) of Christ’s beating and bathes in that flogging almost to the point that the viewer cannot bear it anymore. It is a joke among Coen Brothers fans that Steve Buscemi’s characters are progressively more destroyed with each movie. In Miller’s Crossing, Buscemi is shot and his eyes and face are destroyed. In Barton Fink, he dies in a hotel fire. In Fargo, he is fed into a wood chipper. In The Big Lebowski, he is cremated, reduced to small coffee can of ash.




"I'm not surprised to learn that some anxious individuals find horror films therapeutic," he said. "The genre allows us to voluntarily—and under controlled circumstances—get experience with negative emotion." - Dr. Mathias Clasen


Abby Moss’s Vice article “Why Some Anxious People Find Comfort in Horror Movies” touches on the studies of Dr. Mathias Clasen’s that might explain our attraction. Long story short: fictional horror is safe horror. It is a controlled environment to deal with our real fears and emotional damage. At any point, you can walk out of the theater or turn off the television or device. In essence, this is what Lockwood is doing for himself and for us. Lockwood indicates that his interest in horror is connected to deep emotional wounds suffered from painful life experience for which there is no real quick fix. Lockwood benefits from an isolated, safe space in which to confront this damage. At any point, he can leave the studio, lock the door and none of it will follow him. It is sculpture as both containment and release but it is not a selfish pursuit. The final product is not solely beneficial to him. His address is not direct, nor personal. It is larger than one person and his scars. By dancing around personal specificity, Lockwood taps into a subject that invites us into a tableau ripe for the soul-searching that we all need. We can all come to this exhibition, laugh uncomfortably, inspect our fears and leave a little less burdened. It is a generous and even entertaining creation- setting aside the basic desire to be understood to, instead, carve out a space for others to understand themselves. 


Tags alex lockwoodzeitgeist gallerynashvillesculpture