Knowing Autumn: The Sculpture of Derek Weisberg
By Genie Davis
The show has closed but the images are not forgotten, and the artist spectacularly memorable. Derek Weisberg’s Knowing Autumn, recently at the Fine Arts Building in DTLA, is a body of work both haunting and evocative, fragile and resonant.
Take “What her Eyes Said,” a figure whose clothes appear to be peeling from her body, like a mummy unbound. Created in porcelain, stoneware, and mixed media, the female figure is shaped in partial profile, with an intense gaze that is looking at something wondrous or beyond comprehension.
Riven with color, “Her Image Passed Into Her Soul,” is a ceramic and mixed media figure cast in partial profile, one hand clutching the other arm, a golden arm. A crack runs jaggedly through the right side of the figure’s body. Here is the valuable and the ephemeral, the precious and the profane. The question seems to be, can she hold on to that golden arm even as her image passes?
“In the Shadow of a Smile” is a bust of a male figure with that shadowy smile and a face that is crumbling. This could be a human, a figure from a sarcophagi, or a creature from a distant planet mutating into human form. “How You Gonna Negotiate the Funk” has deeper alien-creature imagery, with a partial golden mask, jagged edges. With “As She Appeared in My Favorite Dream,” the head here has closed eyes, and is banded in brown stripes, as if surrendered to something greater, a figure bound to a dream-state. Both the banding and the elongated neck evoke African sculptures and rituals, something primal and deep. “Your Eyes Never Grow Old” is a riff on mortality – an elderly man with young eyes, the eternal flame trapped inside the aging, smoldering flesh.
The beauty of Weisberg’s work here is that it reveals quite clearly the fragility of the human body, the vibrant nature of the human spirit, the temporary housing of our flesh. It is the spirit that glows in each of these works, and the externals that are crumbling.
Housing the exhibition in the Fine Arts Building within the space’s glass cases made each sculpture seem even more delicate, contained as precious objects, like relics preserved as sacred in a soaring space.
The New York-based artist discusses the fleeting nature of life in his work, seeking, he says, to use art to communicate a power beyond ourselves. His work is elegant, graceful, and heartbreaking. The faces, whether cast as busts or on full bodied figures, are spiritual, or perhaps already spirit. These feel like butterfly people just discarding their human chrysalis. Each seems to embody a certain essence of life, one that passes through the cracks and fissures of Weisberg’s ceramics and makes the art “real.” The sculptures remind one of conduits, perhaps to another world, or to the essence of this one.
Mysterious and evocative, Weisberg’s works are meant to be considered.