Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Boats That Won’t Float: Sculptures by Gwyn Metz

Open the door of Chrystoph Marten’s salon and out float dulcet strains of music reminiscent of the sea.  Marten himself may greet you at the door, hairbrush in hand, and, with a welcoming smile, wave you toward a wall along which are arrayed some of Gwyn Metz’s “boats that won’t float.”

Metz, an interior designer and photographer, has collected cast-offs and lost objects for thirty years.  “Whenever I see something that interests me, I pick it up, throw it in a bag, and take it to my art shed.”  Some years ago, a neighbor came to Metz’s renovated house and said, “"What that mantle needs is a boat.”  That started Metz on the trail of making boats from her accumulated finds, and this show is the happy result.

Out of the homeliest of materials—molded cardboard packing, burlap, wire, stones, wisteria vine, metal, even the sole of a worn-out shoe—Metz has constructed works that set the viewer dreaming.  One boat sits propped on what looks like a plumbing joint, its cardboard hull shaded by a tipsy corrugated metal roof (“Party Barge in Dry Dock”).  The inspiration for another boat started with Metz’s find of an old shoe sole on a beach (“Rubber Soul Wreck”).  Of “Stone Boat II,” Metz says, “I found the stones in the woods of Pennsylvania, where I grew up.  We had one of those great old Pennsylvania field stone houses, so it spoke to me. . . . It DEFINITELY won't float!”

Marten sweeps by and points toward the ceiling, where a rubber-bottomed marvel of mesh is hung by a window, its lazy strands of wire catching glints of light (“Wire and Rubber Scow”).  Another boat is constructed from branches of wisteria (“Wisteria Boat”).  Metz says, “My neighbor, whose property backs on to ours, has completely let it run rampant.  I have been ‘battling’ it for years, and him too, on this issue.  I decided to make lemonade out of lemons.”

Metz feels “a kinship to Alexander Calder because of his trying to solve problems in the simplest and most direct manner and with humor.”  The kinship shows.  She hopes her work will inspire viewers to “think about what they are discarding.”  She hopes, “on a lighter note,” that viewers will come away from the exhibit “feeling happier than when they walked in.”

Metz’s hopes are not for naught.  One might take issue only with her claim that her boats won’t float.  On water, maybe not, but they bob easily on waves of whimsy and take the viewer on a voyage of delight.

Show extended through December 5:  See Metz’s boats at Chrystoph Marten Salon, 511 West 20th Street, Second Floor, in New York City, Tuesday-Saturday, 11-7, through December 5.

Photographs of "Party Barge in Dry Dock," Metz and Marten and "Wisteria Boat," and "Stone Boat II" (2nd below) are by Gwyn Metz.

About Gwyn Metz

As an interior designer and photographer, Gwyn Metz's world is dominated by visual observations and responses to them.  An enthusiastic recycler of castoffs, thrown away, and lost objects, Gwyn infuses these objects with new life and humor so they will see better days again.

Involved with kitchen, bathroom, and furniture design for the past twenty-five years and thinking about objects and environments in general, Gwyn takes pleasure in amusing herself on a lighter note with creating characters, boats, birdhouses, etc., and hopes her work will amuse others with their tongue-in-cheek metaphors.

Gwyn has been picking up stuff from the streets, sidewalks, roadsides, and countryside, wherever she happens to be.  One day and then another, a few sculptures occurred, then more, as time or mood has allowed.  She realized this summer that she has been creating these objects for thirty years.

A graduate of the School of Visual Arts, Gwyn was a photography major who worked as a freelance photographer for years until she returned to Parsons School of Design, receiving a BFA in Interior Design.  She lives and works in New York City and Orient, New York.

Interview with Gwyn Metz 

Q:    Tell us a little about what prompted you to pursue art.

A:      When I was young, my parents took us on numerous trips abroad.  What do you see there but art and architecture everywhere?  I have always been around art and went to a Rudolph Steiner/Waldorf school for the first seven years of my education.  They are heavily slanted to a well-rounded education with a lot of focus on self expression in all kinds of arts media.  Later in high school and college(s), I pursued theatre, fine arts (including drawing, ceramics, photography, and darkroom work), advertising (very mixed media), and interior design with a lot of model making.  Later I taught myself carpentry and gardening.  My wonderful aunt was an art dealer in Chicago for forty years and introduced to me modern art.  Due to her influence I began collecting at seventeen.  Later, I worked for Betty Parsons Gallery in New York, a year after graduating from the School of Visual Arts in photography.  She, too, was a huge influence in my life.

Being somewhat dyslexic as well tends to propel those of us with that consternation more into the arts than academics, don't you think?   My mother was a romantic and loved art and poetry, though could not have let herself express things in the way I have come to.  My brother and two sisters are all very talented in their own right and also have made many things in different media. 

Q:    What set you on the trail of making these sculptures?

A:      Actually, a neighbor came to our newly renovated house in 1994 and said, "What that mantle needs is a boat” (a model ship, I took him to mean).   I thought that would be nice, but they are so expensive to buy.  The seed was planted, and I kept thinking about what I would make for a boat.  Maybe a year or so later, I started making some doll characters and then a series of birdless houses.  After that came the boats.  The birdless houses and boats went into a few group shows and most of them sold.  More came later, and then my mom died and I stopped making anything  for five or six years.  Slowly I made a piece here and there.  Donated some to benefit auctions.  This summer, with the economy so bad, I knew that I wouldn't be getting any calls for interior design work for a bit.  Instead of moping around all summer I decided to throw myself into making more boats that don't float and just have some fun.  Late in August, I think, my hair stylist asked what I had been doing this summer.  When I told him, he said he wanted to give me a show in his salon.  I gratefully accepted (after he saw the work and really liked it). 

Q:      How long has the project been in the making?

A:      Well it depends where you want to start from, but I'd say for this show it was in June. 

Q:      Where did you find your materials?

A:      From all over.  Whenever I see something that interests me, I pick it up, throw it in a bag, and take it to my art shed, where I have loose "categories" of things.  It can sit around for years or a short time, depending.  And no, I am not a clutter bug hoarder in that sense.  I do collect things, but they are organized and retrievable.

Q:      Did you have a particular view about what the materials should be?

A:      In some cases yes and others not.  Things, like houses (in the renovation world), can sometimes tell you what they want to be or should be.  You just have to look, see, and listen.  But remember, most of the materials are already at hand.  Once in a slim while, I'll buy something that I can maybe alter slightly or use as is to fill a need for a missing element.  Nuts and screws to be sure, though even some of those I find.

Q:      Are there any materials you used that you were particularly pleased by?

A:      All the materials please me in some way or another or I probably wouldn't pick them up or use them.  But I do especially like some better than others, for their entertainment value.  The one I get the biggest kick out of is "Rubber Soul Wreck.”  Finding the sole of the old shoe on the beach really cranked up my imagination, and I thought I could really have fun with it, and I did.  Many of the items I find are, shall we say, "compromised"?  I used the especially compromised items in this piece to show what a wreck it really is.  Another piece is an abstract boat made from wisteria.  I love wisteria, in its proper place.  My neighbor, whose property backs on to ours, has completely let it run rampant.  I have been "battling" it for years, and him too, on this issue.  I decided to make lemonade out of lemons, and "Wisteria Boat" is quite lyrical.  Ironic, because I am very upset with said neighbor.

A third piece is "Stone Boat II.”  I found the stones in the woods of Pennsylvania, where I grew up.  We had one of those great old Pennsylvania field stone houses, so it spoke to me, and it was fun making it into a boat instead of a house.  It DEFINITELY won't float! 

Q:      Do you have any artistic influences that relate to this work?

A:      Not to sound pompous, but I have always felt a kinship to Alexander Calder because of his trying to solve problems in the simplest and most direct manner and with humor.   I totally relate to that approach.  Ironically, without my knowing, the second visitor to my show referenced my work to Calder in his note in the guest book.  I was stunned and so very complimented.  Others see a Betty Parsons influence.  She was one of my dearest friends, so it is no surprise, though the execution of our work and the results are very different.  I think viewers recognize a feeling, and that is what is coming across.  There are countless other artists whose work I admire too, but maybe not for this discussion. 

Q:      Is there anything you’d like to say about the exhibit space and how you arrived at mounting an exhibit there?  (By the way, Marten gives the warmest possible welcome to visitors; he is clearly—and justly—proud to have your work on display.)

A:      I mentioned earlier how the show came to be.  By the way, Chrystoph Marten, who went out on his own a few years ago, is a very talented and creative stylist, having studied with and worked at the Vidal Sassoon Hair Salon for ten years.   Incidentally, he also attended a Steiner school in Germany, where he grew up.  And yes, he is interested in all expressions of art and has had a photography show there and also several music venues in the evenings.  His salon is very flexible.  He freely moves his minimal amount of furniture around to suit the occasion.  It is a small and intimate space that has a gallery feel to it with sunlight flowing in.  It's an embracing kind of space.

Q:     What do you hope viewers will experience/come away with from the work?

A:      I hope viewers will be inspired to look at things differently.  Think about what they are discarding.  Think about not taking things so for granted that we as Americans, especially, are so cavalier about in our wastefulness.  On a lighter note, I hope they will see the humor and come away feeling happier than when they walked into the show.  I hope they want to buy a piece to enjoy it for along time.

Q:      Do you have an artistic “philosophy” you’d like to share?

A:      An old saying that was drummed into me from my school and home background was "waste not, want not.”  Somehow, that simple thought has stayed with me through my life.

Q:      Do you have any other projects/exhibits in the works?

A:      The only "project" in my art life is that Chrystoph asked me if I would like to do another show next year.  What do you think I said?   "Of course I would."  My design business is starting to pick up, which is a good sign, though it becomes more of a balancing act to fit both things in my life.  Kind of like having two jobs, time factors varying each week.  That's okay because it has been like that for years and probably is for most people.


  1. Great interview and a wonderful show. We thoroughly enjoyed it! Can't wait for the next one!

  2. Really good feature. I like very much seeing the pieces and learning about the artist's background & methods.

  3. I really enjoyed this review and interview - fascinating subject, entertaining read.


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