David Nash's abstract wood sculptures look like products of a lost civilization, one that revered nature far more than ours does. Nash uses fallen tree trunks, which he cuts, burns, blasts and sands into blocky yet eloquent totems ranging from about two feet to eight feet tall. These objects seem to be models of hybrid organic and architectonic forms. Made of oak, elm, redwood and -- his favorite -- lime wood from Wales, where he lives and works, they seem to result from a ritual procedure, as if the artist attempts to extract from the dead wood the life forces of nature itself.
One of most spectacular pieces on view, Black in Red Cross, is a nearly eight-foot-tall charred tree trunk bearing a gouged-out cross that has been charred black. Recessed deep in the warm red of the natural wood grain, the black shape could be the crucifix of an ancient Christian cult. The design is echoed in a large three-panel painting on paper titled Three Red and Black Crosses, which is similarly iconic.
Another work, Cut Corners Oak, suggests a scientific or mathematical experiment. It is a delicately carved sculpture about four feet tall, with twisted and curved surfaces. The edges of the piece are charred, which makes a dramatic outline to the writhing planes. It could be a topological experiment of shifting proportions and space, and it also hints at a living creature struggling to free itself from the rigors of geometry.
David Nash, Oct. 22-Nov. 27, 1998, at Galerie Lelong, 20 West 57th Street, New York, N.Y. 10019.