Hagen Family Gallery, September 14 – December 2, 2018
The ceramic sculptures of Chuck Johnson depict narrative stacks of elements from the built and biological worlds. The hard-edged linear elements contrast with the organic curves of endangered animals and child-like dolls. His vertical towers achieve a precarious balance, wherein the living subject seems trapped and resigned to an impossible situation, as if born into a world of limited choices. The sculptures have a playful quality, but also allude to temptation and sin, the rift between man and nature, the accepted burdens of institutions and technologies.
In Elephant with Locomotive, an elephant stands on pedestal, supporting a locomotive engine. A sense of weight is transmitted through the animal’s body. An apple between its front legs hints of temptation and reward, but there is no way out, no way to turn, and too much weight to bear.
Doll with Church places a crawling doll or child on a too-small pedestal of blocks with a cathedral sprouting from her head and back. Her neck is ringed with bells, her head upright to support the spire, and an apple rests between her hands. The figure seems resolute, but without a way forward. The upward thrust of the church seems to point toward redemption, and yet the figure is trapped between its columns and foundation.
The largest work on exhibit (70” tall), Rooster Stele seems more hopeful: the pediment is made up of a child’s building blocks and the animal figures are placed above the constructed elements. But all is still not well in the world. The rooster is hooded, the pig cannot fly, and a human figure is chopping the tree that supports the central column. The sculpture alludes to the dual meaning of the word “stele”, an upright stone slab or column and the central core of the stem and root of a vascular plant.
Chuck Johnson is an Associate Professor of Ceramics at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania in Edinboro, PA. In 1982, he received his BA in Studio Art from the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater; in 1990 he received his MFA in Ceramics from the University of Wisconsin – Madison