Matthias Merkel Hess demonstrates an impressive power of aesthetic transformation with a contemplative and intelligent solo exhibition at Acme Gallery on Wilshire Boulevard. One of the foremost principles of art is an act of transformation. This can be as basic as observing the three-dimensional object and rendering it in two dimensions. Of course it can include transformations of scale, content and narrative. Imagined into reality; fact into fiction; low into high. At its core essence, Art is interpretation through transformation.
Merkel Hess’ chosen subject matter is the anvil. Each life size replica is rendered in slab-constructed ceramic stoneware covered sumptuously with a host of luscious glazes. The power of Merkel Hess’ transformation lies in a faithful depiction of the immutable in a medium of vulnerability. One even faint blow from a hammer would shatter these sculptures. But the original objects are not only meant to withstand such abuse but their very shape and raison d’être is to work in concert with the blows of an artisan crafting iron and steel into forms mostly for utilitarian use.
Here then a brief (and uncommonly well written citation from Wikipedia): “An anvil is a basic tool, a block with a hard surface on which another object is struck. The block is as massive as is practical, because the higher the inertia of the anvil, the more efficiently it causes the energy of the striking tool to be transferred to the work piece. In most cases the anvil is used as a forging tool. Before the advent of modern welding technology, it was a primary tool of metal workers.”
There are many reasons to admire this exhibition. The objects are indeed beautiful and elegant. Of course this beauty emanates from the source form itself. But the execution that Merkel Hess exerts on the ceramic medium runs the perfect tight wire between accuracy and approximation. The glazes, some matte and sensual, some glossy and pock marked, flirt with the viewer’s eye like a comely lover. Indeed the desire to run one’s hand over and under these objects and caress the surface can make you blush.
The exhibition is perfectly and humbly installed on sawhorses with functional plywood tops. Most are placed at hip height where they would reside in their functional setting. I have no doubt that they will work equally well in a vitrine or on a coffee table but this will be their second life in a collectors home. For the gallery setting, this is the perfect display methodology. It strips pretension while simultaneously engaging intellect.
Merkel Hess has assembled a diverse selection of anvil forms each with a specific origin of trade. Metal smiths, blacksmiths, saw makers and farriers all rely on this basic tool. Yet each form references function particular to the trade. This variety of forms is nice, for as the focus remains honed, Merkel Hess avoids the drone that variations on a theme so often devolves into.
Lastly, because the anvil and its historical purpose have largely been usurped by mechanical manufacturing and contemporary welding techniques, the show bears a subtle elegy to manual fabrication. This wistful scent can occur hours after one visits the gallery. Thankfully neither the work nor the press release drums this possible interpretation into the viewer’s frontal lobe. Merkel Hess thankfully is an artist of evocation and not dogmatic illustration.
Mathias Merkel Hess at Acme. 6150 Wilshire Blvd. through July 6th, 2013
-Mario M. Muller, Los Angeles, June 13th, 2013
also by Mario M. Muller
- Mid-Century Modern at LAMA Auction House, Van Nuys - February 20th, 2014
- Robert Therrien at Gagosian, Beverly Hills - January 22nd, 2014
- Art Fair Season in Los Angeles - January 15th, 2014
- Roy Dowell at Various Small Fires - October 14th, 2013
- Leon Benn at Carter & Citizen - September 13th, 2013