BEAUTY AND FUNCTION GO HAND-IN-HAND
By Lou Fancher
Every handyman, hobbyist or homeowner has a story about a favorite hammer. But it takes an artist to recognize that beyond the familiarity of a wrench or a ladder, tools tell tales beyond words. ReTooled: Highlights from the Hechinger Collection at the Bedford Gallery features 28 artists and 40 tool-inspired paintings, sculptures, works on paper and photographs. With artwork from Jim Dine, Claes Oldenburg, Jacob Lawrence and other nationally recognized artists, Curator Carrie Lederer says the exhibit knits together four themes: tools as objects of beauty, material illusions, instruments of satire, and as an extension of self.
An ancillary exhibit, Blade Runner, swings the spotlight to 20 Bay Area artists. “We wanted to focus on local artists without mimicking the Hechinger show. We honed it down to one object: saws and their blades had a lot of possibilities,” says Lederer.
It’s true, sharp-edged objects can offer lovely and lethal messages simultaneously, as evidenced in Oakland’s Bella Feldman’s Merblade, a curvaceous steel sculpture topped with a dangerous, toothy blade. San Francisco-based Rico Solinas’ series of landscapes painted on hand saws includes Black and Silver, a highly realistic scene of a tipped semi-truck and flying boulders. Twisted nostalgia comes from Susan Martin, whose Not Your Grandmother’s Crocheted Coverlet #1-4 combines circular steel saw blades with cotton thread, felt and other soft materials to tell a double-edge story. Kristin Farr takes tools into the world of fashion, with Dangerous Diamond Necklace, a lively mosaic of bright hues, painted on a hand saw shape and suspended on a gold chain.
Ultimately, tools are elevated to reveal their deeply human or humorous sides through artists’ interpretation. In Jacob Lawrence’s Carpenter, a man’s trunk-like forearms and bent posture speak to the irrefutable power of tools while conveying the weariness of workers who wield them. By repositioning a tool—a bright orange lawnmower perched on a black bed of nails in F.K. Wall’s Summer Tool—we recognize purpose and playfulness in one image. One takeaway from the exhibit is certain. You’ll never look at a rake or a knitting needle with disregard again. You’ve been retooled.