by Arlene Distler
The sculpture and drawings of Hugh Joudry will be at Gallery In The Woods during June in a show titled “Visionary Art and Sculpture.”
Joudry has been going about the business of sculpting for many years, but staying under the radar, living a life more like a monk than a scion of the art world. He would not have it any other way. But it is also an exciting time for the artist. His work is getting attention from the “Outsider Art” movement, and soon will be featured in Raw Vision magazine.
Joudry is a mystic and a mathematician (in the winters he teaches math at the Mount Snow Academy), as well as artist. This multitude of beings somehow fit into a short but stout frame, topped by a shock of white hair. Although he’s in his 70’s, and complains he can no longer move logs as he once could, he nevertheless moves massive hunks of wood into and around his studio. He happily accepts the logs that people leave at his home. “People just bring me these great pieces of wood. A short time ago the Town of Stratton had to cut some Elms. They brought me the logs…I was thrilled because Elmwood is the hardest of woods, and lasts forever. Henry Moore used only Elmwood.”
The winter months are for sculpting as summers are taken up with the forestry work. There is the house’s porch, but most of the sculpting takes place in a yurt just outside the door. Clear plastic over a wood frame keeps out the elements. He’s kept warm, he says, by the heat created in just wielding the chisel and mallet against the hardwood.
When Joudry talks sculpture it’s just as likely to bring up the mathematics of the Golden Mean and Fibonacci harmonics, as Brancusi. In fact, he has written a book on the subject of these mathematical and mystical equations. But, says Joudry, “for me, it is constricting to think too much about this – in truth, as a sculptor, it is something I’d wish to arrive at, intuitively. If you pre-calculate it you’re dead.”
Joudry’s sculpture is far from dead! Dancing, lunging, striding, contorting, they inhabit their space with an assertive presence that seems as ancient as the shaman and modern as Giacometti. The “Great Cackler”, with its undulating lines and mass of smoothed and glistening birch, seems to be lifting its head right off its shoulders, reminding me of “the trickster,” that can be found in the myths of tribal cultures.
“Horus”, Joudry’s sculptural interpretation of the falcon-headed god of ancient Egypt, looks totemic but liberties are taken, especially with the lower half, an elongated spherical form with the middle carved out. These negative spaces, prevalent in manyof Joudry’s sculptures, he describes this way: “The holes serve as background to the resultant shape that forms around them, and there is a metaphysical reason too - that matter has the power to condense out of nothing except pure energy.” For this reviewer, the “holes” create a dance with the space…the pieces become ethereal, as if they are being formed before our eyes and can disappear just as easily.
He says he is especially fond of spirals in the wood, which many pieces take advantage of, such as “Wave,” “Warrior,” “Dancer,” or “Liberation,” the form wrapping around itself. He adds that the spiral has the added attraction of “a whole cosmology of rigorous mathematical thought behind it.” It is also an ancient symbol of the goddess, continual change, the life journey, and evolution of the universe, showing up in Celtic, Native American, Japanese art and culture, to name a few. Carl Jung calls it an archetypal symbol representing cosmic force.
In addition to the sculptures there are a selection of drawings in the gallery. Joudry’s drawings have elicited quite a bit of excitement recently, by, among others, the editor of “Raw Vision.” I am especially taken with the older black and white drawings. They have the muscularity and inventiveness of a Picasso, and are possessed of a stark and haunting presence. The artist compares them to “automatic writing,” writing that comes from the subconscious. But the newer ones, employing color, are intriguing for other reasons. Joudry says he is just “discovering color,” and the drawings are giddy with it. These newer drawings sculpt the flat plane bit by bit, as if the repeated shapes were marks of a chisel. They surround an embedded figure, the background as alive as the page’s protagonist. The artist works on them repeatedly, relating them to the sculptures he has in mind.
Straddling, like one of his long-legged sculptures, two worlds –– tribal-shamanic, and modern, Joudry’s work does not fit easily into a “school” or gallery-ready label. And yet they are valued for their originality and power, a vision that is untainted, as some see it, by art school training. This description of African sculpture well suits Joudry’s ouevre: In these carvings there is no mistaking the energy and playfulness with which the human body is turned, by confident distortion, into such a gallery of wonderful creatures.
It is a rare thing to have a show in town devoted to sculpture. Joudry’s work is not in the mainstream of the current cultural take on sculpture, which in recent years has been all about installation. Installation art can be cold and antiseptic and intellectual. Not that I have anything against intellectual. But I think we are very thirsty for the human factor – even bird-human, the fantastical human! These “wonderful creatures” say something about potential, about transformation, suffering and freedom. Joudry may not be in the mainstream but clearly he swims comfortably in the ancient ocean of soulful human expression.
Arlene Distler is a freelance writer on the arts, based in Brattleboro, Vt. Contact email@example.com for more information. Review first appeared in the Brattleboro friday gallery guide “Gallery Walk.”