Art in America – Exhibition Reviews – Roman de Salvo by Leah Ollman

Art in America - Exhibition Review - Roman de Salvo by Leah Ollman

La Jolla The instructional drumbeat of this show’s title—“Split, Splice, Splay, Display”—characterizes well the transparency and humor of Roman de Salvo’s best work. It describes in the most abbreviated manner the steps he takes to transform raw material (in this case, wood) into finished sculpture, and delivers the alliterative terms with a showman’s wink. De Salvo has a bit of the carnival barker’s performative flair (“It slices, it dices . . . ”) in addition to the patience and diligence of a fine craftsman.

For each of the six new pieces in this show (all 2008 or ’09), he split and segmented tree branches, recombining them into wall-mounted sections of tracery. The cut sides of the wood face out, and have been sanded so they read as smooth, continuous planes. That continuity is a coy illusion, since the spline joints (slender strips of wood inserted and glued into grooves cut into the ends of both joined pieces) that connect the sections are fully visible, and neither the grain patterns nor the width of the segments matches up precisely. De Salvo flaunts the artifice of his constructions while teasing organic-looking patterns from them. In Filter, Chinese elm branches are made to look like the veins of a giant (36-by-86-inch) double-stemmed leaf. In Delta Tissue, the slim lines of wood define a cluster of irregular rounded shapes suggestive of a cellular network or the residue of an agglomeration of bubbles.

De Salvo turns slightly more devious in Course, which mimics the paths of a racetrack, and Loquat, a blossoming Rorschach-like pattern hinged in the center so that its two halves might be closed like a book, the twigs restored to their full dimensionality. Cursive riffs delightfully on the arabesque, half of its eucalyptus branches facing in and the other half out. Here, as in his earlier, cleverly ornamental/functional series of electrical conduit mazes with working lightbulbs, de Salvo practices a type of conceptual craft. He balances his respect for the nature of materials with his impulse to cunningly denature and reorder those same materials. He shares some trickster traits with Tim Hawkinson and Tom Friedman, but the forms he fashions with his gentle wit, and his reverence for the essential circuitry that runs through both the made and the found, are all his own.