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I used to dread walking in the morning on the green pastures of the south lawn and into the painting studios on the campus
of the Kansas City Art Institute. It was from 1977 to ’81 when we more than consumed alcohol openly. But it wasn’t the
nauseated dizziness associated with a debilitating hangover that comes with the morning after. It was because every time I
left the studio each day I was certain I would return the next enshrined into the annals of KCAI history as if nothing else, a
pseudo bad ass who would avert issues of “painting” and “sculpture” at all cost if not for one colleague.
Walking through the gauntlet of Sobriety
A series of wall works comprised of twine, cut canvas and thin lengths of wood presented a well-mannered play with
space/volume and texture that seemed more associated than attached to the walls with temperate colors applied.
Maddening stuff at the time and easy for me to dismiss as stoic modernist nostalgia loitering on campus.
To my impetuous being the work came off insular and without risk to its own accord. A set of symbols and signifiers only
the artist himself could interpret and therefore challenge if not for the less brash and more gracious of us that would
engage in a discourse that didn’t beset the environment we found ourselves.
Where’s the drama, the spark and the threat to the pageantry of formalities and established doctrines of art practices?
Torment would follow and my peripheral would narrow, as a slightly dark film would be drawn over my eyes. Why did I have
to pass his cubical to get to mine?
Without him knowing it I picked Jim Woodfill as my nemesis. He would seemingly, wistfully spend days pondering the
space he’d cut with a piece of canvas without the hint of haste and doubt that normally leads to numerous changes and
variations only to arrive at the same point of induction.
Interchanging the flux between line, space and volume to exploit the works’ own fallibility in the context they are displayed,
Jim’s was as ardent a process as it was sublime.
There I was with fire and brimstone (cotton, rubber cement and a Bic lighter) in the attempt towards spectacle denying the
cognitive process of methodology and analysis whilst Mr. Woodfill held steadfast to his canon of extensive deliberation
and the prudent application of his materials forever aligned with his language.
It drove me nuts because I knew he was on fertile ground but I didn’t know why.
I’m a bit calmer now and don’t listen to “10 Years After” all that much and can even keep the contents of my stomach down
with one foot on the floor to keep the room from spinning.
Unbeknownst to me at the time his would be a major focal point from which my BFA would be accredited.
It was through the portals of a social Internet platform that I was able to go back into time be it ever so gingerly, where Mr.
Woodfill had posted images of his work from “the early days”. I winched at the opportunity but stayed the course and after
streaming through the images I was stricken by the newfound lucidity its primary framework provided. I remembered each
and everyone one as a time capsule summoning me to the intrinsic way his work unfolded.
When “Googling” myself on a recent Sunday a curious image came up. Curious but even more disconcerting the image
instantly reeled me in and played into my hands tailored to my senses of spin and splash like an isotope. What was this
image doing amongst my cachet? When dreaming I get envious of the work that appears yet when realizing it’s my dream,
I made it; I awaken only to be unable to recall the image so redolent. I wasn’t dreaming and this work wasn’t mine and only
after enlarging the thumbnail I found the name “James Woodfill” attached.
Thrown off center I think I even said to myself, “Could there be another Jim Woodfill out there”?
Or maybe it’s his son because as I later found out he had a talented daughter at our Alma Mata. I closed the image and an
article appeared: “Tone Spools, By Jim Woodfill”.
The One and only.
The use of kinetics compensating for a lack of work yet to be done is an ensuing challenge. It can come off wanting to get
to a place of effect and resolution without asking the hard questions like simply, “what for”? But when the elements
coalescence and maintain the now tenuous yet still strident principles of sculpture to perform as essential mechanisms
from which a rich narrative is produced without suggesting they can be replaced by another, the outcome can be
As when Martin Kersel flipped the room of his daughter on a horizontal axis rotating it so its contents would eventually
detach itself from a domesticated to an anarchistic environment tossed about like a load in the spin cycle of a Maytag
Otherwise someone is just using garage technologies to make contraptions to twiddle away one’s time.
Jim Woodfill plays with notions of constrained force rotating in circular movements on a series of vertical axis. Quarter inch
steel components are bolted to the walls to hold steel rods in place, generated by electric motors allowing amass of
garden hoses to swirl continuously. The hoses are strenuously wrapped in a cylindrical form and spliced together allowing
one color to sharply co exist with a not so complementary color of another garden hose. But we are not referring to outdoor
furnishings made to harmonize and co-exist with the mandates of suburban code.
A menacing allure:
The hoses with there pregnable though endowed presence add to a drawing quality of line creating form that translates to
mass in uncompromising ways re enforcing its aptitude by spinning it’s yarn as more than oddly behaving apparatus in a
contemporary art venue.
Attached to the wall at pedestrian height the works are more ominous then if positioned in an open space quadrant off by
security rope or tape on the floor. At a certain location there are two works on adjacent walls in close proximity to each
other with 36 inches or so of space between them. This creates a tempestuous gateway beckoning the art clown like
myself to occupy the space beyond by squeezing between them, coaxing karma to befall upon me the potential doom
should a stitch of loose fabric be outstretched from my body by the force produced by the RPMs of these binary turnstiles.
An inbred force of instability suggested by the structures quivering at high speed instates a heightened sense of
awareness and positioning one has with the work and the space both occupy.
I’d have more potential for survival but less fun when passing through the space between two naked people standing in a
passage way allowing just enough space for one single person to pass through as my body grazes theirs. But body contact
is not on my list of sensations desired when riding the subway or going to see art, unless I had a choice of gender and type.
This suite of motorized wall sculptures contains the visual draw and intimation of consequence that expresses vitality and a
dispatch of allegory making the work far greater than the sum of its parts.
Mr. Woodfill has lifted the well cap and gone to a place where stoicism mixes it up with a sense of play. And his discovery
and resourcefulness are an integral part of his working process without the threat of disseminating his modernist
tendencies. Insuring us or rather me at least, that he emancipated himself from the shackles of grey.
Not a credible disclaimer.
But if I read this correctly, this series did not come from a moment of divine intervention from the art gods sent in to awaken
an artist from the catacombs of a contemporary modernist slumber. In an excerpt from the “Awakenings” catalogue essay
by Ms. Kate Hackman, it is assumed the artist would respond to a question as to his choice of material, “Why garden
hoses” with, “Because they were there”.
No way this theory washes if one considers the acute deliberateness of Jim Woodfill’s decision making evident in his
process(s) over the last 32 years. That kind of quip response is not in his constitution. And even though it’s been over thirty
years since we shared the same space in the same room at the same time, I suspect that garden hoses in mid 20th
century modernity color patterns resulted in a more transitive development than just simply tripping over things in one’s
back yard to surreptitiously come up with content.
Mr. Woodfill remains close to his roots and his academic background with a post as an assistant professor at KCAI. It’s
exciting to discover his recent work operating with all the indoctrination of his past with a more evident smear of irony in its
corporeal embodiment, creating an arena of reckoning and anxiety in art galleries today.
With a pinch of envy and a busload of pride,
|Coming back around to James Woodfill
By Alexander Viscio