Sticks and Stones: Austin Heitzman’s elegant junk sculpture

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Austin Heitzman
Austin Heitzman’s sculptural bark at Gallery 201

The art Austin Heitzman makes is a combination of scrap lumber, scrap fabric, twigs, stones, cardboard, pulp paper and rope– all held together with string. The ambiance is skeletal: Elbows and limbs poking the air every which way and no fat on the bones. But while bodies are evoked, so are boats and animals, anthropological digs, shipwrecks and Robinson Crusoe — that progenitor of today’s Survivors. The ambiance is travel but these are rafts of a different kind. Their journey is post-apocalyptic — and North Philadelphia. Their journey back to civilization comes after an event of colossal proportions, or perhaps a non-event, a collapse, a dispersal brought on by inertia and neglect applied over centuries.

Austin Heitzman
Freestanding piece.

Odd outsider-ish constructions, these works are non-sensical and follow no logical system of making, but gravity is their director: They either stand up or they don’t, and the artist works intuitively to get the balance right. Some works are free-standing; some hang from the rafters; others attach to the walls. They’re barnacles and stalactites and they evoke stories of galactic swirls of exploded planetary stuff now come together through some magnetic force.

Austin Heitzman
Austin and Libby at the opening of his show

While the wood and other scrap objects draw the eye, what is the more important element and actor is the string, some places tied on with gentle touch or precision, like a violin-maker putting strings on a violin. Elsewhere string wraps its broken elements with such vigor it evokes a tourniquet applied on the battlefield to save a life. This is a young artist who grew up partly in Indonesia seeing people living in scrap wood and cardboard houses, and in a studio visit I had with him he told me he’s been thinking a lot about that time in his life and getting inspiration from the people and structures he knew back then. This is a great debut show, and look for the artist’s work to pop up at Tower Gallery in the not too distant future.

Austin Heitzman: Shattered Bark. to may 5. 201 Gallery. Crane Arts.

Tags

201 gallery, austin heitzman, crane arts building

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