It helps that woodworking runs in Jeff Griffin’s family. If it didn’t, he probably never would have turned to wood when he finally realized that he just couldn’t achieve the flawlessness he wanted to with paint. Paint can run. It can crack. The color from one tube to the next can vary slightly. And unless you have the surgeon’s hand that is a detailed painter’s best friend, painting within set lines can prove challenging. There are a lot of variables when it comes to paint. Wood, however, is a little more reliable.
“I just found out that … getting the paint to be as perfected as I wanted it to be was a problem, and I find that dealing with wood lets me deal with perfection and that type of aesthetic a lot better,” says Griffin, a BFA student at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Griffin’s show Panels, on display at UNR’s McNamara Gallery, features 20-plus wood panes that skirt the line between sculpture and painting. First and foremost, the pieces are landscapes—barren sceneries all involving a celestial body above the horizon. Every piece gives the viewer the illusion that she or he is standing in the Black Rock Desert looking at a rising moon, or perhaps standing on the moon looking back at a waning Earth.
“I really like landscapes generally,” Griffin says. “I don’t like them in the traditional sense. I like them when I can make them barren, when I can make them strange-looking, interesting-looking. But I don’t want people to get stuck there, and that’s why I kind of treat the object as a sculpture.”
In each one of Griffin’s pieces, the heavenly sphere is the only part of the panel that isn’t wood. Instead, the orbs are papier-mâché. Griffin cuts a hole into each panel with a drill bit or razor blade then packs the papier-mâché mixture (newspaper, flour and water) into the hole, overfilling it. When the paper glop dries, he sands it flush with the surface of the wood.
“Some real simple lines can be drawn between taking a piece out of wood and then filling it back in with a product that came from wood,” Griffin says. “It’s not necessarily what I focus on. An aspect that’s interesting to me is that I take out a hole and instead of inlaying it with some precious material, which is usually what you do with inlays, I find a way to make shitty material able to accommodate that type of look.”
The woods Griffin uses are all carefully chosen and are never stained or painted. Using money he received from a grant, Griffin traveled to Oregon to hunt down wood at some of the state’s backwoods saw mills. He found woods with intriguing patterns in the grain (what look like wispy clouds in several Griffin pieces are actually tint and textural changes in the woods’ natural grains) as well as single pieces of wood that showed stark differences between the sapwood and the hardwood part of the timber—pieces where the sapwood sucked up iron and other minerals from the soil, creating a dark-gray ashy color in the center of a tree directly in contrast with the outer ginger color.
Griffin treats wood as though it’s perfect in itself. He only manipulates the medium when sizing it down and deciding where a sphere would look best upon its surface. The final creations are simple and elegant, adhering to wood’s natural fluidity.
“I treat every aspect and every detail of [my pieces] with the most amount of care that I can," Griffin says. "I know perfection is kind of an impossible thing to achieve, but it’s nice to play around with it."