The Flying Dutchman, 2007
wood block print on chalk board
72"h x 40"w x 16 " d
by Amanda Douberley
Over the past year, Joshua Welker has hopscotched from print media to painting to sculpture and back again. Not a neat progression of ideas but rather a series of lateral moves has guided Welker in his recent work. According to the artist, he "attempts a play with the human longing for a naming of our state as individuals, which is one of perpetual potentiality and, as such is indefinable." (1) This embrace of endless potential has produced art that is disparate in terms of formal approach but rich in associations.
Sometimes a conceptual link ties one project to the next, while in other instances the bridge takes a visceral, material form. For example, take a group of works associated with a green chalkboard. The chalkboard started out as a backdrop for an assemblage of found objects, then became a support for a woodblock print, and at the same time served as a kind of template for a series of paintings, which correspond with the chalkboard in size alone. The chalkboard is one of several references used by Welker that just teeters on the edge of anachronism—who needs a chalkboard in the classroom when you have transparencies and digital overhead projectors? Here the chalkboard works precisely for the reasons it has been superseded by other technologies: the messy white dust that is nearly impossible to erase resonates with Welker's use of plaster in other work. At the same time, the chalkboard is a field of possibility, of potential for plots and schemes worked out in draft format. There is something about the size of the chalkboard that works differently from an overhead projector, allowing for a surfeit of information writ large and on both sides. This doubling is another potent symbol for Welker as it opens up rather than closes off the field of inquiry.
The buttress is an additional anachronistic figure that takes on iconic status within Welker's work. The artist is attracted to arcane structural systems employed to achieve ever greater heights – the "Flying Dutchman" print's tiered half-timbering, the steel structural system of 19th century towers, and the buttresses that allowed cathedrals to rise. Welker's sculpture is a messy affair composed of found wood, plaster, and string, all painted white. Its form carries over into a painting and is again repeated in an electric shade of sky blue on a grid of newspapers pinned to the wall. As a graphic figure, the buttress looks more like a hangman's gallows than part of a cathedral, another layer of doubling whose significance remains ambiguous.
Welker relies on what the philosopher and logician Charles Sanders Peirce called "collateral observation" for viewers to make sense of his work. The transfer of references from one project to the next results in an accretion of signification without a definite stopping point. As Welker circles around and doubles back on these references, he further disrupts any notion of stability.
(1) Artist Statement, May 2007.