Working with molten metal is hot and dangerous, but it's also thrilling, especially when it's big.
Chris Weaver gets it right. Weaver learned from the pros during his residency in the Arts-Industry program at the Kohler Co. in Wisconsin. There, select artists work either in the foundry or with the pottery. Part of why those Kohler toilets and sinks and bidets are so expensive is because they're cast from liquid clay and smoothed by hand.
Weaver, an Arkansas resident and graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute, has 20 pieces in Doing the Work Other Americans Won't Do, his solo exhibition at Rockhurst University's Greenlease Gallery. He shows a variety of work, including mixed media, ceramics and sculptures made of found metal and objects and (most successfully) cast metal.
Many of the cast-metal sculptures double as working grills. The "Human Hibachi," at the beginning of the exhibition, suggests the dynamic direction that the exhibition may go from there. With a velvety matte-black finish, this working hibachi resembles a Roman bust, yet the man's face is severely strained, and the tendons in his neck stand out in painful and realistic relief. Perhaps he struggles to hold up his head, which opens at the top to reveal a grill embedded where his brain should be. It's creepy, amusing, well-crafted and unexpected. "Jack Rabbit Hibachi," also of cast aluminum, more serenely carries the grill on its flattened back.
The cast-metal sculptures suggest an affinity for surrealist and dadaist artists' connections to dreams, nonsense and storytelling. In "Rabbit With Hat," a life-sized cast rabbit wears a hat that is a circular platform holding a tiny figure astride a horse. The smaller sculpture suggests an ancient Cycladic figurine. Its significance is hard to figure, but the way the hat flattens the rabbit's head so that its ears have disappeared is both absurd and disquieting. In "Pet," a cast-iron rabbit is dominated by a cast arm and hand, which have replaced the rabbit's head. The cast hand looks as if it is stuck in a perpetual petting motion. Using the word pet as both noun and verb, Weaver cleverly mixes humor and discomfort in these pieces. They're funny and they seem to emerge from a disconnected dream where nothing makes sense.
"Non Typical Grill" is the exhibition's pièce de résistance. A large cast-iron deer is a propane grill that comes with its own tank. It beguiles with its absurd irony. The deer's back and empty body hold the grill. Cast antlers include a cooking fork and spatula, which are not obvious at first glance. Dollar signs dot the deer's body, and its eyes are a bit bugged out, as if startled to find itself in this awkward situation. Grilling meat on a game animal seems slightly sadistic — perhaps it's the perfect grill for a vegetarian.
Weaver's ceramic pieces are uneven and less satisfying than the cast-metal works, but only by comparison. They could be in their own separate exhibition. Whereas some of the subject matter crosses over from the metalwork — the rabbit also appears in the ceramics — the clay pieces vary, from the ultrarealistic "Pioneer Couple" to the nonsensical "Burdened Jackalope." With a village balanced on its back and a bevy of white-robed men living in its body, the jackalope presents an eccentric visual short story. Most of the ceramic sculptures share the dreamlike and nonsensical vibe of the cast-metal works, and that makes the exhibition an absurd good time.