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Bill Woodrow / MATRIX 91

December 2, 1985 - January 21, 1986

Trivial Pursuits, 1985

Download the exhibition brochure (PDF).

British sculptor Bill Woodrow begins his work by gathering raw materials from the region surrounding the exhibition site, in this case the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art where the exhibition originated. These materials consist of common artifacts from our culture, sloughed-off remnants of obsolete industrialism and spent consumerism. Thus the artist's work takes its form from an unlikely array of discarded manufactured products ranging from mailboxes and musical instruments to automobile parts, household appliances and metal toys. His sculpture, transformed with hand tools (tin snips, pliers and hammers) from raw materials to finished work, retains the identity of the original object while ingeniously extending its meaning and structure via a fresh synthesis of intention and form.

Woodrow chooses objects for their shapes as well as their obvious references and connotations. Certain structures and imagery, such as relationships between the human and animal worlds, appear again and again. In Green Snake, a snake menacingly encircles a watch emerging from a cymbal, alluding to the irony of man/machine vs. nature and the predatory character of urban violence.

The catalyst for Still Waters was an actual elk head that Woodrow saw in a local second-hand shop. In response to the mounted trophy, he began creating his own elk head out of car hoods. The rest of Still Waters began to emerge around this initial image. As the elk (head) swims upstream its antlers comb the immediate environment, snagging a gold bar, a key and a microphone-images that symbolize power and control-and which have been used by Woodrow before. The elk pulls (rescues) or is restrained by larger debris consisting of domestic objects (a chair, a step ladder, and a sinking boat). The final section of water (box spring) is covered with fallen leaves.

In Trivial Pursuits, a damaged Porsche door sprouts foliage that seduces a blue hummingbird with its blossoms. The blossoms, however, are not merely flowers, but a jewel box (wealth), and padlock (passive security) and a gun (active security)-three objects that must be opened or released to offer up their full purpose and meaning.

Intrigued by the cultural facade of religion in Southern California, Woodrow employs the image of a bell along with the suggestion of a ruined archway in Collection. The archway, made of old trunks and used men's jackets, has given way. The bell lies in front of it, disabled, its clapper in the shape of a cross, muted, and its pull chord lined with fishhooks (Jesus, the fisherman; hooked on Jesus; or the wounds of Jesus?) meandering on the floor. Has the arch collapsed because the toller of the bell snagged his hands on the hooks, pulling the bell down? Was the foundation badly made or too old?

The status of Woodrow's materials as real refuse is thus set against the various symbols and references evoked. Rich in imagery and provocative in meaning, the pieces produced in San Diego are at heart involved with social, moral and political concerns.

Woodrow was born in England in 1948 and studied at the Winchester School of Art, Winchester, and in London at the Chelsea School of Art and St. Martin's School of Art. For the past several years, his work has been represented in major exhibitions in Europe. It was first seen in this country in 1983 at the Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York.

Lynda Forsha
Curator, La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art

(Edited from the catalogue accompanying the exhibition that was organized by the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art.)

MATRIX is supported in part by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Federal Agency, Mrs. Paul L. Wattis, the T. B. Walker Foundation, and the Alameda County Art Commission's County Supervisors' Art Support Program.