Danville Chadbourne’s moving retrospective

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Danville Chardbourne at Gallery Nord

San Antonio artist Danville Chadbourne’s weathered ceramic and painted wood assemblages might be the ancient artifacts of an unknown civilization. Made with clay, wood, stone, fiber and bone, the organic materials suggest a lost culture closely tied to nature. Representing a vast, sprawling world of the imagination, Chadbourne’s serene, abstract forms evoke a wide range of psychological and spiritual states.

His paintings and wall pieces look as if they are ripped from the wall of a temple. His indoor sculptures could be religious statues used in rituals. Influenced by science fiction as well as natural history and archaeology, Chadbourne sees his work as evidence of a once-great civilization that has declined and been forgotten, leaving behind a dusty trail of inexplicable objects.

“I am concerned with the intellectual speculation that we make regarding other cultures, especially primitive or ancient ones based on our observation of their artifacts,” Chadbourne said. “This anthropological perception is a key issue in my work.”

A prolific artist, Chadbourne is usually working on as many as 100 works in his old converted grocery store studio and small backyard, which will be part of the On and Off Fredericksburg Road Studio Tour Feb. 20-21. A stalwart of the San Antonio scene, Chadbourne taught college for 17 years at San Antonio College and the San Antonio Art Institute.

But for the past 30 years, he’s devoted himself to his expansive vision of an alternate universe. Though he’s exhibited extensively throughout Texas and New Mexico, during the past year he’s embarked on a series of retrospective exhibits, beginning last April with “Retrospective Part 1” at the Blue Star Contemporary Art Center. “Retrospective Part 2” is slated for next fall at Bihl Haus Arts.

In between, he’s having shows across South Texas, starting with Del Mar College in Corpus Christi last fall. Currently at Gallery Nord in San Antonio, he’s showing new work, including several pieces suspended from the ceiling that look as if they could have been made by an ancestor of Alexander Calder. “Compelling Intimations of Heresy” features a blue egg and antlers suspended beneath a jutting bundle of smoothed tree limbs. Dancing and spinning in the air, his suspended pieces have a much lighter feeling than his solid, hefty-looking pedestal pieces.

His lyrical though somewhat academic-sounding titles often allude to some personal or philosophical conundrum. Frayed red cloth is draped over what appears to be a buffalo head in “The Ambivalent Game of Irreducible Values.” Opposing blue egg shapes battle metaphorically in one of his paintings, “The Duplicitous Reversal of Expectations.”

“The titles are about what is happening in the work, at least from my point of view,” Chadbourne said. “They may seem esoteric, but the titles have to resonate with the piece. The titles aren’t all serious; some are humorous. To me, they are an extension of the metaphor.”

He makes his paintings look like architectural remnants by coating them with a layer of acrylic stucco, which is scraped away in flakes. He accents his pieces with driftwood, tangled tree roots, bones, river rocks and other natural forms. He relies on mineral pigments to achieve the soft earth tones of green, blue and red – the palette of the American Southwest. He applies a coat of fresh, bright paint to each piece, which is then sanded and stained to suggest great age.

He’s also showing new large, standing sculptures at Gallery Nord such as “Myth of the Haunted Night,” which has haunting shades of blue evoking a stormy night. With a form resembling a torso with handless arms placed on a stacked pedestal, his standing sculptures reflect an early fascination with saguaro cactus. In a 2004 show at the Beeville Art Museum, his outdoor works resembled geometric totem poles made up of stacked ceramic cylinders, rectangles and rings, providing foundations for gestural, abstract forms suggesting exotic plants, sea creatures or the human figure.

“My work is not figurative or realistic, but they can be anthropomorphic,” Chadbourne said. “I want to suggest certain kinds of humanlike and animals gestures.”

Solemn and meditative like a kind of Anasazi Stonehenge, a colorful array of Chadbourne’s large, totemlike sculptures stand beside a small stream in a sunlit field behind the Kirchman Gallery in Johnson City in an installation that will be up through the end of 2010. And as part of the Rockport Clay Expo and Pottery Fair, Chadbourne will have another show of “Recent Works” opening Saturday, Feb. 13, and running through March 14 at the St. Charles Art Gallery in Rockport.

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