Daniel Duford Manuel Izquierdo Gallery, PNCA 226-4391
Through Jan 19

When he was a boy, Portland artist Daniel Duford was entranced by a cast of superheroes, including The Incredible Hulk, The Swamp Thing, and Colossus. As an adult, Duford became aware of the Golem character, which has its source in the Kabbalah. The Golem is a figure made of clay, which possesses no soul or capacity for speech. He is animated by the name of God, and deemed a protector. As the mystic tale goes, the Golem's thoughtless strength ends up forming the roots of destruction--as such, his plight suggests a cautionary tale, warning against aspects of creation. Duford also discovered the Golem character in Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, where the Golem myth merges with the history of comic books.

The impressions that these sources left on Duford surface in his recent body of work, appropriately titled Golem. The exhibit blends the aforementioned influences to provide a comment on, amongst other things, notions of masculinity. As Duford articulates in his artist statement, "All of these big men were ultra-masculine powerhouses whose elemental urges dwarf their reason."

The exhibit consists of a pair of sculptures and a series of large, charcoal and graphite drawings. With a relaxed hand, Duford produces images that illustrate the Golem in different settings, such as "Golem Among Poppies." In this image, a naked Golem rests in a field of poppy flowers. Duford's drawings largely appear as preparation for the creation of the three-dimensional forms. By comparison, the sculptures better establish the character and physical reality of the Golem. Coincidingly, Duford appears most at ease with the sculptural process and specfically, working with clay. The material is also a rather fitting choice for the creation of the golem, and as Duford says, "Ceramics is alchemy."

Duford combines clay, wax, and wood to create the primal figure, "Virescent Golem" (above) The Golem that appears simultaneously heroic and pathetic. His stature is formed from a mixture of disparate elements. His strength, for example, is pronounced by over-developed quadriceps and a neck that is seemingly hidden underneath massive shoulder and chest muscles. His feet are disproportionately huge, which makes this formidable figure appear awkward. Additionally, his arms have been replaced with tree limbs. Thus, we have a defunct superhero.

Duford manipulates the clay with bare hands, creating a rough and grisly texture. With this element, traces of an art-historical influence appear; the ghost of Alberto Giacometti, (Swiss sculptor 1901-1966) surfaces in the Duford's work. A certain unfinished ugliness is achieved. The Golem is organic and primordial, which is accentuated by the "skin" colors in red, brown, and gray. Duford also incorporates wax into the surface of the figure. The glistening material gives the Golem a swampy aura, and the figure is not seamless. Instead, Duford constructs the Golem in parts, leaving the seams very apparent, as if to suggest that the figure is an oversized action figures. The Golem's head is a spitting image of Neanderthal Man--protruding jaw, deep set eyes, and a downward, vacant glance.

What Duford effectively creates in the Golem sculptures is a set of contradictions that forces us to consider issues of power. Sheer size and strength are at odds with forces such as intellect and reason. Duford's Golems are massive, but they are not ferocious. They are quiet giants--figures to be sympathized with, but not feared.