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Universal Truths through Personal Stories

Buddhist philosophy, painting and sculpture in Timothy Cobb’s ‘Who Amongst Us?’

Sep. 27, 2016
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Timothy Cobb Fine Arts’ latest exhibition, “Who Amongst Us?,” is simultaneously a study in compassion for the human condition and a Buddhist call for the surrender of ego. Cobb’s curatorial statement asks, “Who amongst us has fully averted our human instinct, no matter how subtle, to supplicate in some way?” “Supplication,” he explains, is our ego’s endeavor to “attract what we want and repel that which we don’t want”—our attempt to “heal separation.” The irony, of course, is that Buddhism teaches that only complete surrender of our egoic attraction/aversion mindset will allow us to achieve true oneness with the universe.

The sculptures of James Matson and oil paintings of Peter Schassler present us with transcendent human struggles, emotions and situations in surrealist forms that make them all the more fascinating. “Who Among Us?” is an exhibition that challenges viewers to examine their own stories.

Matson comes from a venerable teaching background and his mid-size multi-media sculptures testify to the decade he spent working as a potter: Most include numerous individually fabricated bricks used as the building blocks for the larger subject. He describes his process as storytelling—the distillation of personal history and experiences into visual elements that yield universal truths.

In Meditation, for instance, we find a small human figure made of tiny bricks sitting in front of a window with cross-shaped bars. Matson shares that this work was prompted by his own reflection on when praying for an end to tragedies such as mass shootings becomes an insufficient response without direct action. He notes, however, that such a work could just as easily be interpreted differently—the open-endedness of his sculpture is intentional and effective. In another work, Sisyphus, we observe the tragic figure of Greek mythology endlessly rolling his boulder up the hill in Hades, but here the character takes a modern slant. A Sisyphus for our greed-stricken times, his body is covered in dollar bills and his boulder is made of gold.

Asked about the connection he sees between his own work and Schassler’s, Matson points to the shared penchant for motifs of scorn, angst and the macabre, musing that, for him personally, the “extreme realms of human experience—such as euphoria and despair—help define our little space.”

Schassler’s large-scale oil paintings certainly capture this ethos as well. Revelation is a jarring image of a man standing, very much alive, with a gaping hole in his midsection. His entrails have been removed and he bears an expression of shock and bewilderment. Schassler shares that this image came to him as a metaphor for a difficult breakup, but again, the arresting vision could just as easily carry a different story of human suffering and attachment.

Wear and Tear gives us the striking image of a detachable pregnancy belly and breasts hanging from a rack against a black ground. Here the artist’s painterly technique and impasto are especially visceral in bringing forward the texture of the unusual garment and the story behind it begs to be told. Schassler calls the work his “stab at all the personal augmentation that people go through, and the relationship between beauty that’s real and man-made.”

Psychologically and humanistically poignant, Schassler’s paintings likewise benefit from master craftsmanship. A carpenter throughout his artistic career, the artist makes his own exotic wood frames, noting, “I try to give the frame lumber the same reverence I ask it to give to the paintings.” 

Provocative and masterfully executed, Matson and Schassler’s works are sure to leave viewers with a sense of wonder at both their own humanity and others’.


Through Oct. 7 at Timothy Cobb Fine Arts, 207 E. Buffalo St., lobby.


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