The Art of Subtraction: Carvings by David Esterly

January 29 - March 10, 2013

David Esterlys spectacularly realistic cascades of flowers, fruits and foliage capture natures every facet in limewood. His still lifes render in razor-sharp detail the frayed end of a worn piece of rope, the turned corner of a page of sheet music, or a small insect on a petal. The Art of Subtraction is a singular opportunity to explore Esterlys rarely exhibited limewood carvings, are which normally confined to private homes and historic British landmarks. The title refers to the carving process, unusual in the arts today, which begins with a plank of wood and through a prolonged process of removal produces delicate and airy objects of wonder.

The subjects of these carvings range from traditional still life themes of fruits and foliage, gardening tools, musical instruments, written materials, sea creatures and shells, to artifacts of the present day. In a recently completed work titled Quodlibet #1, motifs that evoke the natural world are juxtaposed with the gadgets of our modern existence watch, camera, car keys, and iPod.

Esterlys personal story is as compelling as his artworks. Awestruck at the sight of a famous 17th-century carving in a London church by the English sculptor Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721), Esterly turned away from a promising career in academia to dedicate his life to woodcarvingits physical rhythms, intricate beauty, and intellectual demands. Now, decades later, he is the foremost practitioner of the forgotten carving techniques that revolutionized ornamental sculpture in the late 1600s. In 1989 Esterlys singular skills led him to Hampton Court Palace in England where he spent a year replacing a Grinling Gibbons carving that had been lost to fire.

In 1998 Esterly curated the award-winning exhibition Grinling Gibbons and the Art of Carving at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. His accompanying book of the same title will shortly be reissued in its fourth reprint. This winter his memoir of his time at Hampton Court is being published. The Lost Carving: A Journey to the Heart of Making follows the challenges of recreating a masterwork and explores the connection between creativity and physical work.

The carvings on view in The Art of Subtraction will fascinate viewers with their sensitivity and technical skill. The exhibition will be on view through March 10th.


New York State Council on the Arts with the support of
Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

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