Order, Disorder and Imagination in John Buck’s Sculptures

Order, Disorder and Imagination in John Buck’s Sculptures

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Order, Disorder and Imagination in John Buck’s Sculptures


There is always a first impression, a first glance seeping through the corner of your eye. When passing by one can’t help but to notice the overwhelming presence of John Buck’s freestanding sculptures which stand in front of the Gallery. I find myself overwhelmed by both the size and the boldness by which these sculptures speak. Their organized structural nature combines a variety of ideas from branches, birdhouses to molecular structures and globes, and in the middle of it all stands the ringing human form. Initially, the forms and elements I saw in these sculptures impressed me but their composition did not challenge or stimulate my curiosity. So I kept up with the flow of traffic and continued on walking by. I couldn’t quite figure out why I had an aversion to these sculptures. It wasn’t until I started to break down the elements of these sculptures and take a closer look within the walls of the gallery that my first impression faded and a new aura of his work came into being. A have found an appreciation for both his ways of making and the perceptions he presents.

I am a big fan of wood carving, so I am thoroughly impressed by John Buck’s carvings of both his sculptures and woodblock prints. I appreciate the details of his work for instance the visibility of the chip carving and the control he has over the bends of the wood. I am curious to know the techniques he uses to get these details and his methods to making them. I read that John Buck uses a special kind of wood called jelutong. The artist said about working with wood, “ There is an automatic and direct relationship between the nature of the wood and how I am able to work with it…In the carving of wood there is a physical activity that is more about nature in the making –not just the concept of the image, but the actual making, is connected to nature.”

His connection to nature and the environment go beyond his use of wood as a medium, but are explicit in the stories he tells. In the lecture ‘Pillar to Pole’, Bruce Gunter commented on three forces which he found impacted Buck’s art work, these being: Midwest roots, environmental degradation and relationships to humanity.

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John Buck takes these forces and manipulates them as though he was looking through a camera obscura, shaking their reality and creating an isolation of ambiguity. Which makes me imagine John Buck to be an intensely thoughtful and perceptive man.

Out of all his work on exhibition, I found myself most drawn to his wood block prints. I really appreciated both the order and out-of-control, free-lance elements of these pieces. I think that these prints exhibit a stream-of-consciousness and a strong imaginative quality with an unlimited freedom of experimentation. The total surface is covered with sketches, animated and alive there are characters both serious and twisted. I’m utterly impressed by the entire surface covered with layers upon layers of these doodles and sketches in a graffito style. I like the disorder, especially when looking at them next to the rather organized balanced sculptures.

The woodprints do have a controlled quality like that of the sculptures, which is visible in some of my favorite pieces: “The Coal Mine” 1996, “The Lamp”1994 and “The Empty Hand” 1996. In these pieces a combination of order and disorder, are brought together to create a strong statement. “The Coal Mine” 1996, there is a frame defining the limits of the drawings, within this frame is a female anatomical structure in orange and red, the body is hollow and inside sits a solid black bird. These images are very simplistic and organized, but within and around these images is the total disorder of sketches. I like the combination of these two poles. Whereas a sculpture such as, “Coral Gables”1999, uses the strong imagery of tangible objects in a balanced orderly manner. I like this sculpture, with the natural quality of the wood coming through and the delicacy and detail of the carved objects. There is a pleasant simplicity in this piece that I don’t find to exist in some of his other sculptures. Many of his sculptures give me an uneasy feeling I can’t quite put my finger on why this is so. I think that it may be because he takes abstract random objects and tries to put them in an orderly fashion which could be considered “taboo”, like eating food off the floor or shouting in church. John Buck shakes up reality and manipulates the ideologies in the world around him.

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