If you feel a twinge of nostalgia when viewing Sam Perry’s wood sculpture, the reason is that his work harks to an era when Bay Area artists were drawing as much inspiration from craft and folk traditions as from European Modernism. Chief among the mid-20th century artists doing so were Alvin Light (1931-80) and J.B. Blunk (1926-2002), prodigious wood carvers whose work spanned furniture, figuration, abstraction and, in Blunk’s case, architecture.
Still, much of Perry’s oeuvre remains enigmatic, and that says a lot about what we expect from wood. Which is: We expect it to unfold with the geometric precision of things we know, like houses, furniture and picture frames. By contrast, Perry’s sculptures, with their curvaceous, loopy lines and ambiguous references, do the opposite. Not surprisingly, the strongest, most challenging pieces in this show are those where allusions are open-ended and where the results seem less tethered to craft and more attuned to current strains of abstraction, like what we see in Martin Puryear’s work. While that comparison is imperfect – Puryear’s work contains social commentary that Perry’s doesn’t — both artists draw from the same formalist traditions, and in that they the share a penchant for pushing wood into organic-looking shapes that refer to nature but don’t replicate things that actually exist in nature. That dynamic forces us to look hard at what gives Perry’s work its essential charge.
reptilian body and layers of wood piled up at the tail like folds of pulled taffy, it calls to mind a snake poised to strike. It’s a fine example of Perry making wood do the seemingly impossible.