Light, Wood and Bronze: Two Artists Journey
Linda Hoffman & Sue Cunio Salem

14 January – 24 March 2012

Wood River by Sue Salem
Sue Salem, Wood River
(Click on images to enlarge)

Riding the Ox Home by Linda Hoffman
Linda Hoffman, VI Riding the Ox Home

Light. Wood. Bronze. Three media in their own right, the intersection of which forms a sum greater than the constituent parts. These two artists talk about journey and metaphor, and their work speaks in this dialect. For Sue Salem, it is an emotional and conceptual journey in which the viewer is invited to respond to her abstract compositions. For Linda Hoffman, the journey becomes a metaphor for the Zen Buddhist path to enlightenment.

Landscape in Red and Light by Sue Salem
Sue Salem, Landscape in Red and Light,
detail (part of a triptych), digital print

Sue Salem’s photographs are richly textured, infused with color, and exquisitely composed. Many of the images in the gallery are printed on aluminum using sheer pigments and dye sublimation printing. These appear to glow as if lit from behind. Because the photo is printed on a sturdier than paper substrate, they can be displayed without the usual glass barrier, allowing the viewer a more intimate experience of the image.

In “Landscape in Red and Light” a trio of images glows fiery red. It is light on textile. So simple, so basic, and yet most of us would have walked by, failing to see the potential in the fabric. Not seen this potential of light to innervate warp and weft. Salem makes us see that which we missed. She meticulously sculpts with light, choosing where to let the edges of folds be implied more by their absence than their presence.

Austerity by Sue Salem
Sue Salem, Austerity, detail (part of
a triptych), digital print

In another trio of images, “Austerity,” Salem composes with the basic elements of light and shadow, texture and edge, to create fascinating compositions out of the most mundane, urban subject matter. Salem writes that these pieces “reveal layers of human experience and (frequently anonymous) communication that are both preserved and evolve over time.” They bring to mind the work of photographer Aaron Siskind. Salem elevates her subject, infusing it with a sense of poetic mystery.

“Riding the Ox” is a series of sculptures and poems by Linda Hoffman inspired and informed by the pen and ink Ox Herding drawings attributed to the 12th century Chinese master Kakuan. A more recent version of the Ox Herding series by Japanese woodblock printer Tomikichiro Tokuriki was popularized in the West by the book “Zen Flesh Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings,” compiled by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki in 1957.

Linda lives on an apple orchard in Harvard, Massachusetts. The slices of wood that frame her figures are an integral part of her quotidian landscape. The slices are thick, substantive. That they are still alive with moss and lichen is a delight to the eye. Their polished surfaces reveal the circles of time engraved in their core, providing an earthly home for these temporal beings, the woman and the ox.

Catching the Ox by Linda Hoffman
Linda Hoffman, IV Catching the Ox

The figures are fashioned using the lost wax process, wherein a figure is carved in wax and then a mold is formed around the wax. The wax is heated and allowed to exit via a hole in the mold, which is subsequently filled with bronze. This ancient method seems well suited to the modern re-enactment of this timeless tale.

On the first walk through (Hoffman’s printed handout in hand), there is a sequence and a rhythm to the vignettes portrayed. A woman sets out first to find, and then to tame the ox. In the fourth step, “Catching the Ox,” she is off balance and struggling with a force mightier herself. The steps or stages become a mirror for the soul. Surely I am the woman fighting with the ox, unable to tame her endless desires, or even give up coffee.

Ox and Self by Linda Hoffman
Linda Hoffman, VIII Ox and Self Both Forgotten

It turns out that the ox was within her the whole time, there was never any separation. Eventually there is no ox and no woman, for in “Ox and Self Both Forgotten,” there is a partial circle of wood open to the sky. In Kakuan’s 12th century image, this is revealed with an empty circle drawn with a brush and a human hand. In Linda’s version, the tree has rotted out from the center. Open circle, nothing to hold.

Eventually the seer reenters the marketplace: raises children, washes dishes, paints, dances, builds roads and temples and all of the other activities of daily life. This final message, with its implication of return, intrigues. Entering the marketplace with a new viewpoint, encompassing all that you have learned on the journey. It speaks to the Zen proverb:

Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.
After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.

My husband is a mechanical engineer, a designer of plastic parts, among other things. His best designs seem so inevitable as to belie the lengthy process of refining and editing that was required to arrive at the final product. This is true of Linda’s sculptures. The apparent simplicity is deceptive, there are worlds within to explore. Much that was unnecessary has been discarded. In this way her Ox Herding series pays homage to the original simplicity of the pen and ink drawings they refer to.

Light and wood and bronze. A journey from urban grit to the sublime, from confusion and pain to enlightenment. Each artist uses the elements of their respective arts and their own individual sensibility to reveal the world and ourselves anew.

Deborah Santoro, Curator
January, 2012

All are welcome to a reception & talk with the artists on: Tuesday, February 21, 2012, from 6:30-8:00 pm. This event is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served.

This exhibit is supported by the Groton Public Library Endowment Trust and the Groton Trust Funds' Lecture Fund.