Robert C. Morgan, “William Stone at 7Eleven Gallery”, World Sculpture News, Spring 2012 – download pdf
William Stone at 7Eleven Gallery
I have followed the work of William Stone–an artist included in a recent exhibition, titled Alchemy, at the 7Eleven Gallery in New York–for more than three decades. What has always impressed me about Stones’s work is the artist’s keen ability to bring concept into prominence through material processes. His approach to making art defies both the systemic variations of Sol LeWitt and linguistic Strategies of Joseph Kosuth. In contrast, Stone offers a conceptual approach to art directly involved with material that at the same time avoids academic formulas. He knows how to shed light on an idea through these processes, ultimately trusting the force of the concept to make its transmission.
In the press release for Alchemy, the following statement incited my deepest interest in a recent work by the artist: “William Stone presents two identical sculptures, one wood the other a bronze copy. The original wood piece was created by a beaver and found on a beaver damn in Vermont. The beaver is the artist and Stone sees himself as his assistant, bringing the piece to a foundry. The foundry is the alchemist, transforming artist-made detritus into gold colored metal.”
What could be more perfect? Nature proceeds to do its job and the artist follows suit.
Instead of the artist making the work or discovering the work in the sense of l’objet trouvé, the anonymous beaver articulates the work with his teeth, gnawing away the wood until he achieves a perfect form–an “assisted ready-made” in the classical Duchampian sense. Just as the artist Duchamp discovered the bottle drying rack one fine day while strolling along the quai in Paris, why not suggest that the artist William Stone could repeat this action in the relative wilderness? Instead of Paris, Stone strolls through the Catskills and then Eureka! he sees the work of a beaver and immediately recognizes its potential artfulness. The gnawed wood appears as a human form, an accidental male counterpart to the Venus of Willendorf only carved by the beaver’s tooth in wood instead of chipped away in stone. Yet the artist’s discovery was not made in a Paleolithic cave, but found as a remnant of a natural (animal) process performed in the relative present.
Stone has always confessed an interest in alchemy. Thus, the exhibition context at New York’s 7Eleven Gallery was an ideal venue, a precise context in which to exercise his atavistic discovery. He would perform as the beaver’s assistant and take his ready-made to the foundry where it would be cast in bronze with a patina, thus matching the natural splendor of th gnawed wood. The cast would be exact. It would not so much function as a simulation but a replication of the beaver’s toothy work. In addition, the bronze would exist in an identical scale to that of the beaver’s work. Stone then decided that the foundry would become the agent of his alchemy–the place where the controlled heat of the fire would result in a bronze replica, finally to be shown side-by-side with the beaver’s work. In this sense, alchemy had performed its mysterious, albeit, logical function.
The conceptual connection between what Stone delivered to the foundry and what the beaver gnawed either incidentally or intentionally was complete. Furthermore, the difference between the incidental in nature would now exist on a different level in the material world. Through the interaction of artist and beaver, an atavistic intelligence ensued, suggesting that art may require the assistance of nature to make its final claim–a point earlier inspired by the Dadaist Jean Arp at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich 86 years ago near the outset of the 20th century.
Robert C. Morgan