Recent Works by Danville Chadbourne, on view at the San Benito Cultural Heritage Museum, is a wonderful introduction to a legacy maker and artist. Consisting of sculptures, mobiles and wall pieces, the exhibition shows Chadbourne’s sensibility to found materials, natural patterns, and organic forms.
Made of invasive species of trees, found wood, antlers, shells, seeds, acrylic paint, wire, and beads, his work feels raw and primal, yet sensitive and delicate. The visible wood grains and marks create a vibrancy to the natural forms that Chadbourne collects along walks or in his surroundings. He describes himself as a person of opportunity, reimagining a new life and recognition for scraps and leftovers, which is apparent in the collection.
Walking into the museum felt different — this was the first time the space hosted sculptural work as a major part of an exhibition. The spotlights on the standing sculptures and podiums created shadows in every which way, animating the already lifelike limbs, imparting the feeling of being in a live action Dr. Seuss’ book, complete with lopsided sculptures in bright stripes and wobbly silhouettes and gravity defying forms. Chadbourne’s whimsy is evident not just in his materials but in his mastery of craft and presentation, too. Rather than be pigeonholed by the polish of perfection, Chadbourne uses precision skills to surprise and escape the mundane.
For example, Chadbourne often elevates his forms onto multi-tiered pedestals or bases that are beautifully painted and sanded for a worn-yet-finished look. In the sculpture The Familiar Edge of Interpretation (2021), Chadbourne uses a container-like base to hold a five-pronged figure that seems to be leaping off in excitement. The sculpture The Parallel Narratives of Improbable Truth shows more introspective conversations regarding triumph and challenge, giving a sense of concentration and unleashed imagination, all without losing any of the artist’s playfulness. This spiritedness of Chadbourne’s work invokes a childlike wonder for natural material; it invites viewers into a meditative space, shepherded by bright colors, the flow of the branches, and the patterns of the wood.
His work carries an implicit message of sustainability, showing reverence for the natural world by acknowledging it and letting it guide his vision. Many of the wall pieces, for example, use the woodgrain to trace and outline concentric circles, a reoccurring motif. The wall piece Obstinate and Sinister Proposition (2022-2023) showcases a light blue background framed by a thin yellow line and a thicker green border. A dark blue spot is circled by thin white, black, and wood grained lines, almost filling the frame. Two black appendages, like floppy ears, hang off the top. The black ovals fight for the attention with the larger, darker blue spot, whose repetitive circles draw the eye around the frame. Almost hypnotizing, they reference the passage time and the piece’s natural history.
In Recent Works, Danville Chadbourne reshapes the circles, the curves and twists of nature, into forms with never-ending silhouettes and patterns. Chadbourne’s award-winning artistry reminds the viewer to ponder the balance of nature and art, the space between seriousness and levity.
Danville Chadbourne: Recent Works is on view at the San Benito Cultural Heritage Museum through July 28, 2023.