Bare boned

Walter McNamara’s Twelve

Walter McNamara, seen here at his home with one of his sculptures, often uses wood and bone to stunning, deceivingly simple effect.

Walter McNamara, seen here at his home with one of his sculptures, often uses wood and bone to stunning, deceivingly simple effect.

Photo By David Robert

Understatement is a recurring theme in Walter McNamara’s world. You recognize this looking at his wood and bone assemblages, which, at first glance, resemble the common Nevadan practice of displaying weathered things out in the front yard. Then there are his collage pieces, which are made modestly by rearranging chopped magazine pictures into funky grids.

His words, too, are understated. Describing how people reacted at a reception of his new exhibit, Twelve, he says coolly, “People took a look at the show and said, ‘Yeah.’ So, I think it’s a hit.”

McNamara would know a hit when he’s created one. Once included in New York’s Whitney Biennial, his work has been in exhibitions and solo shows from around the country for the past few decades.

One thing that’s not understated, though, is the size of this show. Twelve, showing at Oats Park Art Center in Fallon, boasts 67 examples of McNamara’s work, including 39 of his wood/bone sculptures and 28 pieces of mixed-media drawing and paper collage. The exhibit chronicles what he’s been doing for the past 12 years.

McNamara isn’t interested in talking about or explaining his art. He prefers, instead, to have the viewers come to the gallery with open minds.

The humor and wit crafted into these conglomerations can grab you by the funny bone, as with one piece called “Smiling Minotaur.” It’s a big flat piece of tree bark with curling horns attached at the top and a face smiling in the middle that’s formed naturally in the bark but with slight modifications to help bring out the wry smile. He’s high-minded and lowbrow in his work with winks and nods in every corner.

A piece called “Pecker Bone” first looks like an ax made of wood. Then you see the perfect resemblance to the famous woodpecker cartoon, amounting to no more than two exposed knots in the wood with its “beak” buried into a stump of more wood.

You get the idea McNamara’s always thinking about subtraction even when he’s adding. Sanding, gouging and scratching at surfaces of bone and wood; whitewashing, polishing or lightly sanding—even the paper in the collages gets the aging treatment.

One collage called “Bill Can Cut in Anytime” cleverly refers to Willem “Bill” de Kooning, whose famous painting is copied in McNamara’s picture via a cut up, four-color printed magazine. Clipped and dripped with dashes of white paint to cover some of what de Kooning had created, something new is formed, and the re-scrambling of the painting’s parts brings a new vantage to old artwork.

The last piece in the bone section is called “Gone.” It’s misleadingly simple. After looking at about 40 pieces of sculptural art made from bones, horns and wood, you’re under the assumption that you’ve been looking at skulls all day. But no, this is one of only two actual skulls in the entire show, except this one is missing something very important—the eyes are not there, as if this is the skull of a horse born with no eye sockets. They’re gone.

The High Desert Minimalist has once again managed to understate the obvious. He’s saying look for yourself, go on, look closer.