Mel Kendrick

"Dovetail" has two meanings. The first applies specifically to carpentry and refers to a tenon broader at its end than its base that fits tightly within a corresponding notch (mortise) to form a joint. The second meaning is more general and means to join harmoniously. The word comes from the animal part its shape alludes to. Dovetailing is what Mel Kendrick does. He dovetails sculpture and carpentry, the organic processes of growth and the artificial processes of mental constructs, destruction and creation, the literal and the figurative. The additive, visual clarity of Kendrick's structuring joins into a conundrum that can readily turn logic into savagery as erotic hilarity and vice versa.

How does it begin? Kendrick's primary, but not exclusive medium is wood for some time now, wood found in its natural states. Some of the pieces here were formed from big chunks of trees about to be turned into mulch, at a site in New Jersey. In choosing the wood, he tries to avoid the picturesque and the overly eccentric. Kendrick's intention is not to underline nature as the artist, as might a beachcomber seeking out exotic driftwood contortions or as ancient Chinese scholars sought out rocks vibrating with mesmerizing form that they would self-effacingly accentuate. Instead, Kendrick seeks a sounding board to increase the resonance of his orchestration.

"Reaction" is an important word in Kendrick's vocabulary. He is a sculptor because he reacts to that material that is in front of him; he does not start with a blank as does a painter. When the wood arrives in his studio, it is left alone for some time so it might shed some of its treeness and become more neutralized. And gradually, and partially by osmosis, Kendrick formulates a plan in reaction to the material's shape, mass, and volume, as well as in reaction to his immediately preceding work. Rather than reinstating the wood's organic origins, he repeats and ritualizes the dismembering acts that brought the tree down, in the first place. A saw is one of Kendrick's primary tools. Full cuts slicing through the mass of the wood, partial cuts that scarify the surface, holes cut through to the gouged out center, staccato, stepped triangular evisceration of the body of the wood these are but some of the (re)actions the viewer is confronted with in a piece like Reverse Stump, (1995). The block of wood has been taken apart by totally basic acts of carving. Then it is put back together again, not in seamless unity, but with a severe clarity that visually heightens the panoply of rhythmic disfigurements inflicted upon the wood. The precarious dislocations of the mass call back to the forms dissolved in planar analysis that were configured by Braque and Picasso in their early Cubist paintings, as well as, to the direct carving, often practiced by Brancusi and the earlier, tribal African sculptors who influenced Braque, Picasso, and Brancusi. The artificialness of this process is heightened by the alien appendages that so awkwardly lift the sculpture off the ground and anxiously balance it. In a number of recent pieces, the stack of cut and perforated sections has been cast in rubber to form a spectral double, literally casting the wood's naturalness in doubt.

Like a puzzle, the configuration of which reveals itself as it nears completion, Kendrick's sculpture retains the visible shape of each unit of forming and its joining with neighboring shapes, so that his process of making is all but fully revealed to the viewer. Unlike a puzzle, Kendrick's sculpture does not lock firmly into resolution.

The vigor, variety, and directness of carving combined with the twisting and zigzagging of the sculpture's components with their purposely imperfect joints, as well as the sculpture's awkward grounding on the floor - all conspire in a visceral spatial dynamism that pulls the viewer into imbalance as the search for resolution and balance keeps being confounded, Kendrick has given body to the inter-dependent countercurrents of consciousness that he and the viewer constantly seek to slow down, take apart, and reconfigure into a comprehensible unity. And the quest for this unity is at once as unrealizable as it is necessary to our existence. The empty gouged out mortises found in Black Trunk (1995), are but the most literal of the invitations to the viewer to form a physical bond with the sculpture and re-enact and reflect upon the vagaries of the process of seeking and meaning.

Since Kendrick has given up the self-contained systems that ruled his earlier embodiments of process in favor of a more open and complete reliance on his personal reactiveness, the sculpture has inevitably taken on a greater allusiveness. And, of course, the pieces of wood that he reconfigures retain a shape that alludes not only to the tubular trunk of a tree but also to a human torso. This is further enhanced by the appendages that take the place of a more passive, conventional base. Kendrick does not repress these allusions, nor does he seek to conclude them. Instead, he literally and figuratively animates his process, turning it into a near totemic presence as inviting of speculation as is the process of its forming. The process invites anthropomorphication. Process and image dovetail as precariously and powerfully as do the individual components of the sculpture itself. The physical evidence of the structuring becomes a mysteriously resonant metaphor.

Klaus Kertess
New York, NY



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