Paul Cherwick’s punningly titled show “Splinter Group” was an engaging assembly of attractive polychromed wood sculptures that offer pathos, humor and craft. In addition to their art-historical and pop-cultural references, the works harbor a healthy measure of purely imaginative zaniness. Born in Winnipeg in 1974, the artist earned an MFA at UCLA. He still lives in L.A., where he has had five gallery shows; this was his first New York solo.
Cherwick’s sculptures (all 2012) came in two sizes: four full-length figural works, each about 3 feet tall, displayed on plinths, and three dozen or so wall-hung, “plum-sized” works, as the artist characterizes them.
One of the larger sculptures, This Is All I Need, is a self-portrait in the guise of Navin Johnson, Steve Martin’s lovable but idiotic character in the 1979 film The Jerk. In place of the comic’s silver mane is Cherwick’s close-cropped brown hair atop a frowning mug sporting hipster glasses. In the movie, Johnson walks out on the love of his life, clad in a bathrobe, his pants unaccountably around his ankles, defiantly saying, “I don’t need you,” and adding, as he picks up an ashtray, “I don’t need anything except this. . . . And this paddle game.” And so on and on. As if this guise were not humiliating enough, Cherwick’s underwear is down as well. In the end it’s a portrait of the artist exposed, and clinging to meaningless objects like a lamp and a chair—perhaps a metaphor for the condition of artists in general.
Another figural work, One and Three Lisas, alludes by way of its title to Joseph Kosuth’s 1965 conceptual work One and Three Chairs, and via imagery to Georges de la Tour: a pregnant woman, mostly nude, holds an iPad on which she reads Wikipedia’s entry on the French Baroque painter while she stands next to a burning candle. Converting One’s Opponents into Collaborators, meanwhile, reimagines Giambologna’s 1560s sculpture Samson Slaying a Philistine, casting Cherwick’s wife as Samson, using a bouquet of flowers (in place of Samson’s jawbone) to slay a swan. The bird refers to a guise adopted by Zeus. According to gallery codirector James Griffin, the theme of the group of larger works is Cherwick’s and his wife’s impending parenthood, including the resulting feelings of lack of control.
More loosely conceived are the many smaller works that hung in a row on the wall, bearing fanciful titles like Bedlam Inducer and Lichen Eyes. These often portray loony characters, such as Vermillion Bay lagomorph hermit, a bearded Ontario recluse with a toy rabbit’s head, ears erect, for a hat. Nearby was Common Pacific Pube Myna, a bird whose open beak holds not worms but a tangle of pubic hairs. These smaller works represented an imbalanced outside world, regarding the artist and his wife as they prepare to add one more crazy human animal to the planet.
Photo: Paul Cherwick: This Is All I Need, 2012, polychromed wood, 29 by 18 by 10 inches; at Brennan & Griffin.