Now on view is Abstruction: The Sculpture of Erick Swenson. Possessing a naturalist’s sensitivity, Dallas-based Swenson creates sculptures depicting mammals and mollusks with extraordinary attention to precise realism and fine details. The works present fantastic vignettes, often shocking, sometimes difficult to view—creatures in distress, dying, or decaying—that evoke the beauty and tragedy of nature, while also serving as allusions to the human condition. The degree of precision and detail necessary to create these works from cast polyurethane resin is truly awe-inspiring, but when viewed closely, the artist provides clues that these incredibly lifelike creatures are not simply reproductions of actual animals. Beyond the initial impressive display lie more complex ideas of history, the passage of time, and time’s effect on living creatures.

Detail: Ne Plus Ultra

Ne Plus Ultra detail. Photo: Kevin Todora

In Ne Plus Ultra, for example, Swenson has included scrimshaw-like carvings on the skull and bones of the deer. Swenson explains that the images are a combination of real and fictional seaports, land masses, and coastlines that hold special significance for him. The carvings allow for a nuanced interpretation of the sculpture and encourage the viewer to take a closer look beyond the initial shock of a decaying body.

The title of this work means “nothing more beyond” or “the highest point achievable” in Latin. It seems to support an interpretation of the piece as a bleak vision of what happens after death. But Swenson sees it as hopeful, saying, “We all have an inescapable death. But if you have the courage to confront the bleakness and if you read the animal’s life-experience on the bones, you begin to see the poetry. It’s about the life that was lived.”

Abstruction: The Sculpture of Erick Swenson is on view through July 29.

Erick Swenson (American, b. 1972)
Ne Plus Ultra, 2010
Urethane resin, acrylic paint
Courtesy of the artist and Talley Dunn Gallery
Photo: Kevin Todora