About Soundscapes and The Untold Story

Soundscapes, composed of two elements, is a sculptural interpretation of sound visualized. The stacked elements are an impression of rolling sound waves. The symbolic oscillations through the air and into our ears, might, at any given moment, elicit exquisite feelings of abundance, acceleration, stillness, evanescence, loss, agitation, or beauty.

For me this aural landscape or picture of sound often translates, or doubles back, into a cascading form of desire.

Soundscape (1), leather on brushed metal, 2015 19 x 22 1/2 x 14”

Soundscape (2), leather on brushed metal, 2015 20 x 26 x 15 1⁄2”

The Untold Story is a freestanding sculpture that symbolizes a thought, feeling or communiqué, unspoken, unshared, unsent--one which is suspended in time, and that hangs in the balance. In contrast to our race to communicate, The Untold Story signals a moment (perhaps even a lifetime of them) that comes to a delicate standstill.

The Untold Story, leather & steel, 2000

11 x 16 x 16”

Why Leather?

As with Soundscapes and The Untold Story in this exhibition, much of the artwork that I created over the last 15 or so years grows out of having discovered a used workhorse collar at a second hand shop on Canal Street many years ago.

The collar had long, thick and worn straps--traces--attached to it. I took the workhorse traces that were attached to the collar and starting tying knots in all sorts of shapes and sizes. I’m not completely sure why. I mounted them to metal squares (in high-relief). I know I liked the way they stood off the face of the metal, and I was attracted to the quality of being able to walk around them 180 degrees; I was engaged by the variations the different points of view provided. I also liked the feeling of working with the leather, its materiality, since it was tough but pliable.

The idea that they had run along the length of the animal, while at work, perhaps pulling a carriage or plow, also spoke to me. The traces felt like an emblem of work. The knots were generally taut, but I suppose I also gravitated to them because, as much as they pulled things together, the tied forms held the potential for release. They were worn. The traces frequently smelled of the piss and shit of the workhorse; they also threw off hints of sweet grass, straw and dried earth. The aromas launched me back in time, to when I was 18, and working on a former dairy farm in upstate New York. It was odor—of manure, urine and sweat--as a kind of leitmotif. At exhibitions, people were sniffing the art. I liked that the work was reaching them on that level.

The leather is also skin, hide, though a viewer doesn’t see this at times; it can be ambiguous. From a distance, one could think the material was bronze or rubber. I found this open quality authentic, in a sense, generous. Things could be what one wanted them to be. The leather, usually dark brown or brown black, sometimes with russet red tones, was also a substitute for a lead pencil. I could twist, torque and pin the traces, manipulate them, and draw and weave leather lines against silvery, square plate backgrounds. The effect was one of soft against hard, and essentially black on white. The result was graphic, and it spoke to me. Combining multiple plates, I was able to sculpt across wider tableaux, with longer runs of leather. The knots soon began to evolve into something else.

The notion of writing with the leather began to open up heretofore relatively closed forms. I began to think about actual writers. I had studied literature, loved to read, and began to sculpturally interpret language, writing and sound in the art.

For Rimbaud exemplified this new tendency. Here, I was hoping to put forth the flowing and abstracted sense of the poet’s written lines, the transitory or cascading life of language and the ephemeral nature of life, his life.

For Rimbaud, leather on brushed metal, 2008

20 x 55 x 10”

And in Conversation on Atlantic Avenue, I was struck by the sounds of a Semitic or Indo-European language conversation two men were having--perhaps in Arabic or Farsi, I’m not sure--near my home in Brooklyn. I wondered if I could interpret the sounds of the conversation visually, and describe the richness of the speakers’ words and intonations. I didn’t speak the language, so the resulting sculpture encapsulated what I heard and imagined, then translated into hand-worked, high- relief words or calligraphy; it also ended up, on a suggestive level, conveying strikingly sensual and energetic tropes of linguistic prosody, which I depicted as variations in rhythm, stress and inflection.

Conversation on Atlantic Avenue, leather on brushed metal, 2012

22 x 55 x 13”

The leather traces have essentially been a way for me to turn a material that used to perform a different and long-held practical task into an artistic medium that helps me tangibly describe my impressions. These impressions are wide-ranging, and might include sound visualized and language sculpted, among others.

Jonathan Peyser November 2015 Brooklyn


On the occasion of “Visceral Velocity or the Emotional Speed of Things” Lichtundfire Gallery