Knock on Wood: Sculpture by Michael Stevens
November 21, 2003 - February 8, 2004
Michael Stevens aligns the comedic and sinister and the crude and refined in his wood and mixed media sculptures and reliefs. These works are invested with the artist's attraction to dark comedy and irony, notorious aspects of his personality that, despite all disclaimers and protestations, cannot disguise his true zest for life. Featuring two decades of the artist's work, the exhibition surveys Stevens's evolution as an artist and seeks to acknowledge his position as one of Northern California's premier sculptors.
Stevens has lived and worked in Sacramento throughout his career. Born in Gilroy in 1945, he moved to Sacramento with his family at age ten. Growing up in the 1950s, he was captivated by television broadcasts of silly, slapstick cartoons, local children's programming, and somber stories on the evening news. The impact of this programming had a profound early influence on Stevens and continues to inform his work today.
Working in wood, Stevens aligns himself artistically with traditional folk art craftsmen. Unlike those artists, however, he uses power tools, only occasionally employing hammer, chisel and old-fashioned whittling to bring the wood to life. He also incorporates found objects into his work. His favorite "ready-mades" are found at thrift stores, where he culls art reproductions by Old Masters and more recent artists to add depth and drama to his sculptures. Stevens appropriates these reproductions, frequently using them as the point of departure for an entire sculpture.
The backdrops serve to bring depth to Stevens's pieces and provide his sculpted figures with a place to inhabit. The charm and sometimes naiveté of childhood toys further informs the treatment and iconography of the comical figures he sculpts. Quirky characters such as Popeye, Uncle Wiggly, Pluto, Charlie McCarthy and Howdy Doody, in addition to commercial figures from 1950s print and television advertising, act out Stevens's sculptural tales. Such kindly imagery lures the viewer into the works, where stories unfold and reveal threats and dangers that are all too familiar in today's world.
Simultaneously serious and satirical, Stevens's work presents ever-fluid juxtapositions of good and evil, innocence and guilt, comedy and horror. Never as charming or familiar as they may seem, his elaborate cast of iconic characters (drawn from the familiar and the frightening) observes, but does not pass judgment upon, the vagaries of human conduct. Expressing dismay at the loss of innocence that America has experienced since the 1950s, each piece seems to parallel Stevens's own emergence and continually evolving perceptions as an artist.