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Home sweet fundamental home

winokurshrinestfrancisladderIf you haven’t noticed Hurong Lou Gallery, yet, it’s time to stop there for clay artist Robert Winokur’s exhibit, “The House.”

The show is not of one house but many little houses on pedestals, each of them about the right size to house a bird.

And indeed some of the houses have birds on them or in them. But the birds are tiny–in scale for a real, small house. Made of clay slabs, the houses are reduced to just their walls, roofs, sometimes chimneys. Pretty basic.

winokurshrineladderBut the end result is anything but basic. Winokur has reduced the houses to the essence of houseness–refuge under threat, shape in space, boxy shape with an inside and an outside, with windows or doors or other holes.

My fave was “The Shrine of St. Francis’ Ladder,” with St. Francis and a bird on his hand in the door, a ladder hung on the back, horizontal, out of reach, serving as a symbol of folly, for man cannot build a stairway way to heaven. But it also serves as a symbol of intent, of reaching toward the stars and all the wonders of nature. Whether it’s a perch for St. Francis or only his bird, it’s a symbol of a spiritual quest and of the wonders of the natural world (top and left, “The shrine of St. Francis’ Ladder”).

winokurbarnsThat kind of spirituality seems to hover over each of these houses. The pair of homely barns hung on the wall, one with a red cross on its side, one with a subtle “whitewashed” rectangle on the side, share a humble utilitarian shape against the wall/sky/landscape that suggests a love of the barn’s purposes and farming as a nearly religious calling. The barns become icons (right, “Two Barns on the Wall, Whitewash, Red Cross” detail).

“Fox on the Hen House Roof,” with its tiny little openings big enough for the birds but not the threat, is not only about foxes and hens. It’s about us, and safety, and ingenuity–of the fox, of the hens, of the people–all God’s creatures.

From a tribute to Brancusi, to a house for symbolic juicy pear shapes, each house has its own purpose and its own holy spirit residing within.

These houses, compared to some of the similar-size houses of Allan Wexler, for example, which are also quite reduced and spare, are not about mechanics or systems or ingenuity or the environment, but rather about human needs and emotions (right, Wexler work at the Philadelphia Airport).

In this time of hurricane aftermath, with people wandering the country looking for some place to call home, Winokur has provided some fundamental answers to just what a home is.