by Chris Hofer Borror

The Triton Museum in Santa Clara is the site of David Middlebrook’s most recent exhibit, The Nature of Things, which runs through December 5, 2010. The 25 works in this show span the last ten years, which have been very productive ones for this artist.

Middlebrook’s Collision Course seems to suggest a parable on gravity.

Middlebrook’s work is about celebrating the Earth and the sanctity of nature. At the same time we see threads of cautionary tales, and one can’t help but feel that we are being urged to preserve Mother Earth. The pieces in this show don’t stray from his overall message, which questions the establishment and the known world with humor and grace. In his usual fashion, Middlebrook puts everything into question, even gravity. For example in Collision Course, you’ll find a precariously balanced assemblage of large eggs of endangered birds whose habitats have been encroached upon by airports in flyways. And in Apparition, you’ll see a cast marble tree stump raised high above, while balancing on slender birch branches.

All of the work is stunningly beautiful. His wall piece titled The Price of Beauty is at first glance a large wooden comb with a twig protruding from it. But this is more than just a two and one-half foot comb: it is representative of the old growth trees that are being strangled out of extinction. The bronze twig that grows out from one of the tines represents the 1.5% of old growth trees remaining on Earth.

David Middlebrook with Apparition

The centerpiece of the show is Apparition. Made of cast marble and bronze, it is, according to Middlebrook, “a celebration of the soul of the tree being transported to the next life.” It is about going into the woods and coming upon a tree stump and sensing the soul of that tree. Echoing feelings of loss and unattainable goals, the marble tree stump perched on the slender bronze birch limbs seems like an elevated tombstone that honors all life.

David Middlebrook’s Head of Dogon at the Triton Museum, Santa Clara

Another magnificent piece in this collection is Head of Dogon, which is made of wood, cast bronze, and Baltic resin. Looking like a tree that’s about to topple, the large sculpture is an abstracted replica of a Dogon mask and structure. This piece is about the Africans’ ability to survive with very little materially because they have such a strong spiritual base.

All of the pieces in this collection are representative of Middlebrook’s philosophy on creating art: “If you can see it, you can draw it. And if you can draw it, you can build it.” Another cornerstone of his work is: “If you do the work, it will teach you.” Taking time out to visit this Middlebrook exhibition at the Triton is well worth the effort. After seeing this work, you will walk away having your soul enriched.

Chris Hofer Borrer is a sculptor who studied with David Middlebrook at San Jose State University and who writes occasionally for ARTSHIFT, San Jose.

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