Austin Art Review: David Everett: Balancing Act (1991 - 2007)

by phil on Sunday Sep 23, 2007 11:40 PM
architecture, art criticism

September 7 - November 4, 2007
(Wed. October 24, free lecture 6:30 p.m.)
Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum
605 Robert E. Lee Road
Austin, Texas 78704
Link to David Everett's Site
Photos of his work in progress
Rating: 8.1

David Everett's sculptures are wood carvings of animals. Humans appear every now and then, but they appear in some ways the equal of the animals, at least in spirit. The humans are generally riding on top of animals, but otherwise, the animals are the same size as the humans. I don't have any pictures of these human-with-animal sculptures, but here are some of his other work.

David Everett's "Medallion", Painted Woodcarving, 14 1/4 x 24 x 16", $8,000.00

David Everett's "Caravan", Painted Woodcarving, 30 1/2" x 38" x 21"

Two big associations came to mind when experiencing his work. The first association is the image of Chukwa. In classical Hindu texts Vishnu's second avatar was the tortoise Chukwa who supports the elephant Maha-pudma who upholds the world.

Everett's Industry on Parade looks like this except it has a nurse and a miner holding hands on top of the animals. According to Everett, the two humans are his parents.

The idea of animals as an atlas holding up the Earth is a recurring motif in myths:

Mongolians tell a tale of how their lands sit upon a golden frog. Native Americans have a sea turtle with the world and the sky on its back. The Aryans think their earth rides on a giant serpent with a thousand heads. (Link)

Another place where the turtle-atlas motif appears is the phrase: It's turtles all the way down! That's what you say to a skeptic that asks, "If the Earth sits on the elephants, and the elephants stand on the turtle, what does the turtle stand on?" So if you ever see a sculpture or image of a stack of turtles, this is likely the reference.

The second big association is that of Walt Disney! Who else represented animals as human-like more famously than Disney? I suspected that Disney, like Everett, grew up with nature:

Roy (Disney) remembered their new home as "a very cute, sweet little farm, if you can describe a farm that way." The forty-five acres included orchards of apples, peaches, and plums, as well as fields of grain, and the farm was home to dozens of animals—hogs, chickens, horses, and cows. (Link)

Everett's and Disney's attitude toward animals is best described by Margaret King's article The audience in the wilderness: the Disney nature films:

As America's popular naturalist, Walt Disney expresses the human-nature relationship as a series of filmic themes: anthropomorphism, selective perception, mixed motifs of pet/wild animal, the child/dog team, the cuteness/violence dualism, and a heavily edited version of natural events and processes.


When Americans talk about nature today, it is as dwellers of the suburbs and cities. In the beginnings of our history as a nation and a culture, nature was a competitor, a harsh environment to be subdued. Once under control, it no longer posed a threat but an opportunity for aesthetic and recreational exploration. Thoreau's Walden Pond essays were written in what we today would recognize not as the wild, but as the suburbs. Thoreau wrote them within a close commute from his family's Concord home (where his laundry was done) and those of his urban friends such as the Alcotts, where he routinely dined, leaving to those on the frontiers of Ohio and Kentucky the genuine hardships and deprivations of living with untamed nature (Edel).


This is nature, but a very special kind: not an ecosystem, but an ego-system - one viewed through a self-referential human lens: anthropomorphized, sentimentalized, and moralized. Critics of this approach called it sensationalizing and patronizing. Those who saw in this new breed of documentary an innovative and positive appreciation of nature called it subjective, approachable, and humanizing.


These films can be viewed as a concentration of the general public's longing for a mythic agrarian root system, a return to the spatial relationships of the early frontier - that is, the frontier blurred by nostalgia, minus the danger element - in an odd hybrid of the custodial and hunting ethics. Our billion-dollar collective obsession with pets as family members - half of all American pets received Christmas gifts in 1995 - is a link between humans and the wild. Disney's nature has been for Americans what Sumerian myths and Aesop's Fables were for Old World cultures.


They taught Americans to think of nature in terms of "courageous" ants, "playboy" fiddler crabs, "industrious" bees, and even "successful" wild oats such as in Secrets of Life

I give the show an 8.1. The sculptures and drawings have a consistent quality about them. Together they are powerful, as you can tell based on the associations I drew above. The representation of some of the animals, like Crossing Gold which shows a road runner (I think), gives animals a certain dignity. It's not a dignity wrought from fanciful regal poses, but through subtle expressions and postures: a little quizzical look from a road runner in that piece, or a real sense of affinity between a raccoon riding a fish in another. The show doesn't get a 10 because a lot of the pieces are just good animal carvings. The gist of Everett's work (at the moment) can be compressed to about three works. There is still some unrealized potential and unexplored angles in the ideas and aesthetic that Everett is getting at.

Images from artist's website

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