Looming in the tall, glass windows, a gigantic, wooden mushroom floats weightlessly as though it had just stepped out of a children’s storybook. Jagged and cracked in places like the shell of a hatching chick, “Champignon” by Donald J. Gordon visiting artist and lecturer Fritz Dietel, nonetheless shimmers a smooth, honey rich amber, polished to a tee.
“From the lobby you can see the head of the mushroom’s face which is a very different shape, and from the gallery, you see this beautiful interlacing of wood fragments that together form its stem. I love the translucency of the stem NS the way there are these broken bits that let you explore or imagine the interior,” said Andrea Packer, director of the List Gallery.
On the afternoon of Tuesday, Sept. 19, the List Gallery hosted a gallery opening and reception for Dietel’s show, “Fritz Dietel: 25 Years”.. An overview of Dietel’s work throughout his career, the show will be on display in the List Gallery until Oct. 22.
Hidden behind a wall, the tall, tapering form of “Sentinel” glows peacefully. Comprised of long, gently flexed and carefully cut planks of Douglas fir, the symmetrical shape of the sculpture creates a small sphere of quiet tranquility in the midst of the energetic, curving, and jagged forms of the rest of Dietel’s works. The gentle, orange light emanating from the heart of the artwork only strengthens this peaceful aura. Furthermore, the combination of golden wood and rich, warm light imbues the sculpture with a quality that almost pulsates in the harsh white of the room, creating an impression reminiscent of the warm purple mauve of summer nights spent looking up at a cloud of fireflies.
“I am currently taking sculpture, so I’m trying to see how light interacts with my own piece. I’ve always thought about it sort of like a lamp, but then I saw that Fritz doesn’t really consider [his piece] a lamp. He considers it a sculpture where light is an element. I think when he works around that way, it allows him to make incredible pieces like this … this is radiating its own light and it makes its own shadows, instead of just having something else make a shadow,” said James Garcia ’19.
Arching off the wall, “Tufts” almost seems like a viper, ready to strike. The sharp, unyielding spikes on the spheres at its two ends and the tightly yet chaotically bound rods comprising its serpentine undulations combine to inject the piece with this tense, tight, almost violent energy. At the “head” of the sculpture, the spiked sphere opens wide to reveal a deep darkness inside that contrasts with the bright, almost neon, acid green resin visibly binding and holding the entire piece together, further highlighting the mysteriousness of this piece that is at once wood and snake, natural and artificial.
“[Tufts]” feels like it’s a form from nature that has been enlarged, that’s animate. I feel like my eyes are opened wider as I look at it. It’s hauntingly familiar yet extraordinary and different,” said Packer. “As you can see when looking at it, [Dietel] has created these naturalistic forms using this artificial material of epoxy. Not only that, the epoxy is pigmented with an unusual green that’s sort of less familiar in the natural world. And so it combines the natural and the artificial in surprising ways. We try to reconcile those things that we usually consider opposites.”
Stabbing into the air, the arrow-like central form of “Flame” is at once strengthened and softened by the curving, helical coils of its outer structure. Colored a deep, patchy forest green, the central structure appears aged and weathered, marked at its top with an orange ellipse at one point as if the branch had grown even taller before being chopped down to size. While the central form is composed of long, continuous branches, the coiled outer form is far more complex, built into an intricate configuration of a multitude of short, greenish black branches. As it travels up the central structure, the coils become further and further apart until it ultimately straightens out, echoing the line of the central structure and pushing the piece to even greater heights.
“[“Flame” is] really a dialogue between two pieces. They were actually two separate pieces at one time, and along the way, about three years ago, I realized I had one piece in my studio that I didn’t like and didn’t really get rid of, and the other spiral form was there in the studio. For some reason, I put them together, and those two pieces have been in my studio separately for maybe 20 years,” said Dietel. “When I’m stuck, I go back in my studio and start playing with forms and adding them together. If I’m building a body of work, sometimes I’ll go back and see that new work and how that might relate to older pieces. We’re developing another language.”