Big, Heavy, Other: Recent Work by Phil Lonergan

Karl Drerup Art Gallery, Plymouth State University • Plymouth, NH • • March 1–April 2, 2016

By: David Raymond

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Phil Lonergan, MakerLeg (detail), 2015, oak log, douglas fir, fabricated steel, bolts.

Phil Lonergan’s recent sculpture at the Drerup Gallery is the work of a committed but wary craftsman. Although his skills with materials and sculptural problem solving are evident and indeed beguilingly fierce, he steps back enough from those abilities to allow sculptural ideas to dominate. MakerLeg is an immense and raw, reclining and partially industrialized tree trunk affixed to a marvelous assembly of a leg-like truss made of various woods and steel joined to a wooden wheel. It’s the kind of morphed object that might inhabit a science fiction factory—you know, an artist’s studio. It suggests Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel that contradicted its vehicular operability. MakerLeg casts a similar ornery spell, a spell that shifts as we encounter it. Propped up on wood blocks it reclines like a dangerous toy awaiting activation. One looks for an on switch.

In his statement about this new work Lonergan writes that the handmade character, his fine carving and building techniques needed a new critique and a new challenge. Recognizing that contemporary art making practices are collaborative and frequently mediated by digital technologies, Lonergan began working with the opportunities that new industrial practices offered. The artist enlisted the services of others. Sistene Wrench is a two-part sculpture of a hand (think of God’s hand fusing life into a reclining Adam in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling) and a wrench like form. Both are assembled, as kits of sectional elements of laser-cut aluminum sheets. A wall in the gallery presents the original laser-cut sheets as an instruction about Lonergan’s collaborative method with other makers. A traditionalist might insist on the preservation of individual hand-making, but that is an argument about artists rather than art. Lonergan’s work allows that a method should be used that primarily serves the requirements of the object.

How Lonergan makes things is clearly interesting, but the things he makes reconfigure his biography. At the Gallery includes a small, blank-faced figure in a long, carved coat, facing three gallery benches affixed to the wall. Lonergan’s artifact/man inhabits our space while the benches rise beyond their original function. In this scenario artist and art (and viewer) seem to merge.

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