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david esterly: steal from the masters

17th Century master woodcarver Grinling Gibbons is widely regarded as the finest woodcarver of all time – his work graces the likes of Windsor Castle, St. Paul’s Cathedral, numerous churches in London and Hampton Court Palace.  Gibbons’ carvings are characterized by unforgettable cascades of flowers, fruits and foliage.

David Esterly was asked to step in and reproduce the Hampton Court carving when a fire at the palace in 1986 destroyed a seven foot long Gibbons carving.

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[private_archives]Esterly is a master carver whose body of work is entirely in the Gibbons style, but it is the only reproduction work that he has produced.  Instead, Esterly makes it a point to embrace the best of Gibbons’ style of carving, tossing the conventions of the period and pushing both the technique and the medium to their limits in an effort to create fresh design opportunities.

David Esterly’s work is as masterful as his philosophy.  Below are examples of his carvings and his thoughts about art – contemplate the power of both – substitute any medium and the message still works.

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David Esterly, Botanical Heads, Limewood

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David Esterly, Works in Progress, Limewood

From Esterly’s website:

‘Don’t copy Gibbons or Arcimboldo or the Dutch still life painters; steal from them.  Revive the old vessels – trophy, overmantel, overdoor, drop – but pour new wine into them, and rethink the designs so that they work even in a minimalist setting. Use a decorative vocabulary, but with sculptural intent.  Bring back the delight in trompe l’oeil, but (limewood being a monochrome medium) make it a more sophisticated illusionism, based on form not color.’

‘To portray organic subjects in an organic medium is to say something that can’t be said any other way.  And say it to the present age.  In a time of radical destruction of the natural world, there’s a poignancy to the beauty of fine foliage carving and the manual skills required to produce it, a kind of reproach that sharpens our awareness of what we are losing.  Back, then, to craftsmanship and beauty?  No, forward to it.’

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7 Responses to david esterly: steal from the masters

  1. Well, Sherry was right about one thing. Those sculptures are MIND BOGGLING for sure! Sooo beautiful, intricate, considered.. She’s also right that all adjectives seem unworthy. The second one reminds me of Pan, who has always given me the creeps for some reason, and I agree – he’s not George Cluney, but the first one has so much emotion in his eyes, that I’ve just spent the last 3 minutes staring into them. It seems like he’s trying to find a way to understand *us*.

    Thanks so much for posting these wonders. And please keep introducing us to such unique and skilled artists.

  2. I applaud you, Susan, for featuring art that not everyone reveres or finds ‘pretty’. Thank you.

    And, I applaud Mr. Esterly for putting his more than ‘fine woodworking skills’ to use in a way that brings _him_ pleasure, and the rest of us something different and interesting to look at and discuss. Is viewing his interpretation of Arcimboldo’s work easy on the eyes? Quite possibly not, but bravo to him for taking on the task. Given that these ‘heads’ use the medium of wood, they obviously will not deliver the same visual impression or visceral reaction that a painting (such as Arcimboldo’s) does (nor would glass, clay or another medium). Any subject is going to imbue an entirely different feeling and extract an entirely different reaction depending on the medium it’s created from, but I see nothing sophmoric in his attempts, nor in the resulting pieces. Carved out of wood? Seriously…give the guy a hand! He’s one of a long line of artists who could be accused of not being original because they copy flowers, fruits or foliage, but fortunately mother earth doesn’t gripe that she’s being stolen from 🙂 I love his unique interpretation and fine craftsmanship and find his use of carved wood in creating an Arcimboldo head worthy of the adjective, ‘original’.

  3. That’s so interesting Sherry – I could have shown Esterly’s mantels, or any other examples of his work, but I found the heads to be so beautiful that I featured them instead! Beauty really IS in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it?

  4. Wow, I’m torn. The carving is, of course, mindbending — my head hurts trying to reconcile the idea of that being wood not ceramic, or some other plastic medium. It just CAN’T be carved!! But I frankly hate the heads. I never liked Archimboldo’s paintings, and in 3-D they are even worse. It pains me to think of the work and craftsmanship spent on something so ugly. (Sorry, world, but to me they are that.)Still, the craftsmanship is incredible. (In fact, adjectives all seem too lame for that work!)

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