By Jen Budney
Associate Curator at the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon, SK.
write up from “Flatlanders” Saskatchewan artist on the horizon catalogue 2008
Clint Neufeld’s sculptures involve an intricate play between contradictory forms, materials, and purposes. For the last few years, since graduating with an MFA from Concordia University in Montreal, Neufeld has been working with the most “Saskatchewan” of forms: engines, excavating buckets, and other mechanical devices that are employed with great frequency throughout the province. Yet, unlike the real objects, Neufeld’s sculptures are not made with industrial materials. Rather, they are lovingly handcrafted from such substances as porcelain and wax.
“Although I acknowledge one could read a comment on gender in my work, that’s not my primary intention,” Neufeld said. “I’m simply interested in taking familiar objects and transforming them just a bit, so that we can look at them from a different point of view.” Influenced initially by sculptors such as the minimalist Donald Judd, who simplified his forms in order to make people pay close attention, Neufeld has also been inspired by installation artists like Ann Hamilton, whose works are much more theatrical and literary. There is an element in his work that hearkens to a different time, a time that was both simpler and perhaps a bit more genteel.
The title of Neufeld’s sculpture, Ten thousandths over, refers to the standard to which a rebuilt engine is initially bored to, 10/1000 of an inch over the original cylinder size. Neufeld’s engine has been constructed form ceramic in parts, and decorated in blue and white in the tradition of Delft china. The engine rests on a metal cart, which resembles a tea service, but also recalls the carts used by mechanics to run engines to different locations for diagnostics. Neufeld’s second sculpture, the wax bucket, is part of a larger body of work called Model 105: the elegant series. In this work, a giant hydraulic bucket made of wax and fashioned with porcelain teeth, rests atop a chaise lounge on wheels. The image is incongruous, decidedly elegant as the title suggests, yet a bizarre juxtaposition of brute force and beauty, labour and leisure.
In some of its materials and its deliberate ambiguity, Neufeld’s work bears a resemblance to the early sculptures of American artist Matthew Barney, who shot to fame with an installation of barbells made of wax and petroleum jelly, a gym locker of pink plastic, and a cryptic climbing wall. Like Barney, a former wrestler and football player, Neufeld has a background in decidedly macho activities: before becoming an artist, he was both a corporal in the infantry and a firefighter. But Neufeld’s work is less jockish than Barney’s and more rural—and in this regard decidedly prairie. A stunning new sculpture recently displayed at the Montreal gallery Parisian Laundry—another engine, partially gilded and appliquéd with a delicate rose motif, and resting on an ethereal transparent stand—brings to focus the question of craftsmanship and the exquisite and delicate work that engine builders and designers do. In this respect, Neufeld’s work functions more as an homage to the traditionally male activities of building and mechanics than a critique of any gender associations. “Guys gathering round to tinker on car or truck engine together—it may be a dying art,” Neufeld says. “In part, what I want to do is celebrate this activity and all it entails.”