February 29 – July 24, 2020
A Pittsburgh native, Thaddeus Mosley, now 94 years old, makes organic abstractions from leftover wood: trees from Pittsburgh urban woods, as provided by local governmental sources (the Forestry Division); wood taken from local sawmills; and reclaimed building materials. The artist’s influences include modernist sculptors such as Constantin Brâncusi and Isamu Noguchi, as well as works from Mosley’s collection of African art, which contains the art of the Dogon, Senufo, and Dan peoples, and, additionally, the structured improvisations of jazz. In this way, in a manner taken up as well by the sculptor Martin Puryear, Mosley addresses the Black American sculptural tradition in a rounded-edge, non-objective fashion. His work echoes across the efforts of some of modernism’s most famous artists, but it is, like the materials he uses, also intensively local. The joining of an international modernist outlook to the unknown-until-played sequences of modern and contemporary jazz is based on an improvisatory reading of how form can be shaped.
As for the abstraction, the scale is not monumental but rather based on a more human scale. Different parts of wood are attached to or fit into each other, creating puzzle-like pieces whose effect derives from their interjoining. In Enclosure (2006), a walnut piece 61 inches high, the work’s Gestalt is roughly divided into two equal halves: a lower pedestal, on top of which we find a hollow space with a strip of wood dividing the middle of the space. The color of the wood is a deep, dark brown, accenting the cavern-like emptiness in the upper half of the artwork. Enclosure, at first glance, might be seen as Brancusian, but there is a rejection of refinement as well, perhaps a trait learned from the powerful directness we associate with African art. In another work, titled Circled Planes (2016), the main piece of wood, offset by a shorter darker piece set against its side—the sculpture consists of walnut and cherry wood—rises 105 inches upward. The height has been attained by shorter pieces of wood attached to the central pole. Like all good abstract art, there is an intuitive sense of rightness to the arrangement and attachment of the artwork’s several pieces. The work stands on its own, without reference to the outside world—this often happens in Mosley’s art.
Curved Suspend (2013) consists of a thimble-like pedestal, on top of which is a darker piece of walnut, with a rounded protuberance coming off its side. A swathe of curved cherry with a rough exterior rises up from the floor to rest on top of the walnut element. The interest of the art stems from the relations between the different pieces, often accurately described in the title. One can’t quite call these efforts modernist; they are too rough-hewn to closely reflect the polished surfaces of that work. Seen together in a group, for they are placed in a gallery space, the sculptures almost seem like they are creating a forest environment. The weight of the individual pieces—their individual and communal thicknesses—persuades the viewer to see them as carved beautifully, the result of the artist’s considerable skill. In Oval Continuity (2017), Mosley takes two pieces of walnut and sets an oval-shaped wooden boulder on top of an urn-shaped pedestal; the piece reminds us of an ancient gravemarker, one of the earliest functions of three-dimensional art. It is clear from this piece and the others that Mosley’s talents lie within the refashioning of discarded wood, in ways that support and reify sculpture’s oldest functions.