Roxy Paine: Wood Wizard

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Forum topic by BuzzardBird posted 10-23-2014 06:38 PM 1599 views 0 times favorited 6 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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5 posts in 873 days

10-23-2014 06:38 PM

Topic tags/keywords: art wood carving roxy paine nyc pinball maple sculpture vampires

What is wood good for? For trees? Yes, but this begs the question. Restart.

What are one’s essential needs of wood, good for? A silly, if not confusing, question. Blather. Because “essential needs” need not be qualified as possessing a “positive” requisite. Essential needs are necessary by definition, and unassailable, granted you’re not a psychopath. For example, I essentially need my Lie-Nielsen Rabbet block plane because A.) it’s a sexy-sexy tool (nickers!). And B.) I’m an American—and both China (looking at you Woodcraft) and Canada (hello Lee Valley) freak me OUT.

Last try.

Why the hell would somebody make a replica of a TSA airport security checkpoint out of wood? Going backwards towards the first question: we certainly don’t NEED it, and it’s almost definitely not GOOD for anything. Not least of which is security—something we unfortunately do need. A fabulous head scratch.

Enter Roxy Paine’s new work and exhibition titled “The Denuded Lens”: an assortment of curious and complex maple sculptures, sure to give that impressive wooden chain you’ve been carving for 11 years, a serious run for its money.

Hello Lumberjockers, Buzzardbird here with a wood report from NYC. First off, this place is nuts! But that’s for a different post. Today I’d like to simply present the woodworking of Mr Paine and some of his whacky if not whackily refined approaches to art and wood.

Mr Paine, no stranger to art making, was once upon a time a stranger to woodworking as far as his earlier works were concerned. These works include life-size stainless steel trees, painted replicas of mushrooms and plants, and honest to goodness robot slaves which (literally) pump out drippy-like crust paintings and globby-goo sculpture barbles. This guy seems to have some genius blood flowing through his eyeglasses, and both fancy people and plain folk alike, seem to enjoy the company of his very high-end output.

Fair enough. But carved wood? Why wood? Why NOW? Have all the art robots gone on strike? What gives?

(for a snapshot of previous work, including other wood works:

To start: we must understand that contemporary sculpture of this type is vampiric. To explain: the contemporary artist must find “purchase” with his or her material. This material is understood to exude content, context, and history and thus the contemporary artist scours the earth for a suitable material that can be shaped to the artist’s will and “process”. The artist then attempts to suck all the blood from this material: all the history, physical properties, relationships to industry, notions of rareness vs abundance or high-end vs low-end. (Artists Donald Judd or Jeff Koons for example.) Everything that Wikipedia will have listed about this material, and more, becomes “found”, “built-in content” for the artist to claim, and to suck dry. But the artist as vampire hasn’t killed the material. Far from it. He or she has simply absorbed the vital core of the thing in the service of something (potentially) far more grand, sexy, hideous, beautiful, and abstract: the howling rebirth of some new fangled vamp-spawn, art shit. Behold the artist: the most refined parasite there ever was.

So with respect to Mr. Paine–having developed an appetite for wood blood–he clearly did his homework, learned how to sharpen some blades, and has consequently delivered a room full of Nice. Undoubtedly, friends and family got some first-rate cutting boards during the build up to his fairly recent wooden debut.

But to be sure, a woodworker need not go this far with with respect to parasitical practices. We have enough sawdust in the lungs to have almost become integrated with the material, and an ability to almost take it for granted. Almost, but not entirely, because, as a species, wood is unique, and absolutely essential. Therefore most of us still find some wonder in the material despite the familiar rigors of labor. Perhaps similar to how a caring gardener might relate to plants. And through our various processes, we typically have our own rituals to worry about: “Respect the material, the tool, the self, the client”. For some of us, three out of four ain’t bad. In any case, we understand material and notions of history and character like few others. And we especially admire, I think, when an artist or craftsman brings our shared and collective material to unexpected places, and dare I say, new heights. Wood after all, is the ultimate democratic material, free for all to gnaw and give stab at. It seems like it’s been this way forever.

For your pleasure check out some of these new heights courtesy of my greasy cell phone camera. And please, never stop work on that mind-blowing wooden chain of yours just because some nerd from NYC decided to get wicked with some computer modeling, a dremel, and a Harbor Freight rasp (or whatever).

And that TSA checkpoint? I never did figure out the “why” of it exactly, due to the fact that I got lost in the work’s transport and wonder: the press release states that the skewed perspective of the checkpoint, depicts an 80 ft room within only 18 ft of depth, and damn if that ain’t true! Withdrawing from the illusion for a second, I suppose there is a comment to be found regarding surveillance, and our diminished human bodies moving through the conveyer belt of modern life, both helped and hindered by our machines; renewed and destroyed by them; transported and terrorized. So there is THAT. But the woodworker in me simply couldn’t get over all the small parts, whacky angles, and clever joinery—where in tight spots, wood glue probably works just fine.


The Denuded Lens @ Marianne Boesky Gallery, NYC, 2014

6 replies so far

View EPJartisan's profile


1116 posts in 2549 days

#1 posted 10-24-2014 10:04 PM

All I can say is that I would be far more impressed if it was not almost completely designed by computers and built by CNC machines. Obviously, not to contradict your great essay above, but if Roxy Paine really cared about leeching life out of wood I would be far more impressed… that is IF this was all done by hand.. the drawings, the models… or ANY HUMAN EFFORT… then yes I agree he would be a parasite off the material. Instead he is a parasite off computer technology AND a complete parasite of the woodworking world and art world. I think his work… though impressive that he went into the half assed effort to create something… it is really crap!.. and I COMPLETELY agree that it is useless, neither says nor does nothing. It is a waste of good wood.

now this went around here on LJs a little while ago… and was totally carved by hand by Ryousuke Ohtake and all the joints work perfectly.. THIS is talent and skill that amazes me… not Roxy

-- " 'Truth' is like a beautiful flower, unique to each plant and to the season it blossoms ... 'Fact' is the root and leaf, allowing the plant grow and bloom again."

View Tennessee's profile


2410 posts in 1938 days

#2 posted 10-24-2014 10:12 PM

He does it because people will pay to see it, and pay much, much more to own a piece.

And as far as why does he do this, CNC or not??
That is like asking why a dog licks itself…....because it can, ladies and gentlemen, because it can.

-- Paul, Tennessee,

View joeyinsouthaustin's profile


1294 posts in 1496 days

#3 posted 10-24-2014 10:13 PM

wowee!! someone rolled over and licked the wrong piece of tropical hardwood.. Don’t get me wrong… I appreciate the essay and all.. just sayin’

-- Who is John Galt?

View BuzzardBird's profile


5 posts in 873 days

#4 posted 10-25-2014 03:41 PM

That Japanese kid’s lobster it out of control! I love it, and still kinda can’t believe it. I would cherish that thing till the end of time.

But I wouldn’t necessarily dismiss Paine’s work due to the presence of CNC or any other technology involved. It’s a mistake, I think, to view technology, or industrial practices, as a “cheat” with respect to art or woodworking for that matter (One might view Paine as a bizarro cosmopolitan sibling of Matthias Wandel). Plus I’ll let it speak for itself how the role of machinery and robotic production play a consistent role in Paine’s work and practice.

But it seems like it’s often the artist who will push the technology to do things with material we have never seen before. If not physically, then at least aesthetically. And getting form A to Z has got to be incredibly difficult. We KNOW this. Because we all understand that making (and designing) anything well and interesting is never easy, no matter what. I put Paine’s work in general, not to mention the wood work, in this category. I also don’t know how much of “the hand” is or isn’t in this stuff, even if the CNC is a presumed given, but I think it’s safe to say Paine’s studio doesn’t quite resemble Ohtake’s old-mastery work bench!

Whatever the case, I would just push back a little at you EPJ and say that it would virtually be impossible to have made this work with NO HUMAN EFFORT. I would actually be more impressed if there were NO human effort. Because that would be a true magic trick!

“Wassup?” – Ryousuke Ohtake

View MrRon's profile


3898 posts in 2667 days

#5 posted 10-25-2014 05:15 PM

From the artistic point of view, there must be a message, but damned if I know what it is. The term that comes to mind is “whimsical”.

View EPJartisan's profile


1116 posts in 2549 days

#6 posted 10-27-2014 08:17 PM

Thanks for the pushback BuzzardBird. My background is Industrial Design and Sculpture, I will always find my own personal struggle between “art” and “design”.. yeah we could go round after round discussing art vs craft vs design… but the nut shell for me will always be the same… I have a solid grasp of the world of manufacturing as well as being forced to understand the world of art. I am at philosophical odds with both of them, nor do I fit into either camp very easily. To many who never have, and will never have to, live with this conflict this seems like a frivolous conundrum… easily laughed at and forgotten tomorrow. For for me it is a confusion based on being jaded by over-education and the desire for a self worth that does not come from money. I take it as seriously.. serious fun… but seriously. I question all of these things in which people place subjective value.. especially when it comes to art…. BUT Roxy’s work hits right on that hot button for me. His work calls me to question the value of my hands and the value other’s will see my hands, for above all things I am an artisan.. I make things with my hands. I worry about the general publics understanding of quality, talent, and importance… else people like me will be lost.. the human part of creation will be lost.

When I consider CNC carving and Giclee (Ink Jet Prints) and now 3D printers.. it becomes even more important to understand the difference between manufacturing and craftsmanship… the immediate issue here is not how valuable is the piece which is created, but how valuable is the person behind the piece… and is that person’s value tangible? or is that person replaceable?... or has the person become more important that the piece created … a hubris over substance? SO if the piece made by non-artisan means and not though human production… for me in my humble, but educated opinion.. it must excel in meaning, purpose, provocation, or expression of skill or talent… it MUST be awe inspiring in some manner if the creator is to be absent. And I find that Roxy is absent in his recent work … and it fails to inspire or provoke anything other than the age old banal question of… “is this art?”

I am not a luddite and I enjoy the benefits of technology… but I will hold on to my old time ideal CNC, inkjet prints, and 3D prints belong in the world of technology and manufacturing…. not in the world of art.. and I hold fast to that there MUST be a distinction otherwise there is no integrity of the artist. Sure anyone can create anything… that doesn’t mean it should be…. and just because cause someone did… it doesn’t require celebration.

-- " 'Truth' is like a beautiful flower, unique to each plant and to the season it blossoms ... 'Fact' is the root and leaf, allowing the plant grow and bloom again."

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