Artist F. Clark Stewart’s new show at The District Gallery in Bearden brings with it the double meanings present in much of his work. On the surface it’s a collection of beautifully crafted and detailed miniature boats. Titled “Aquamata,” it’s a follow-up to his previous show at The District Gallery, “Automata,” an exhibition of miniature cars.
But a closer look at both the cars and the boats reveals a universal characteristic — none of them have a place for a driver. They are fantasy vehicles. Or, a different level of thinking, spirit craft.
Look even closer and one discovers that, also like the cars, the boats have working parts.
Why — if they are simply small versions of real-life boats and none has a place for an operator anyway?
The answer to this question approaches what’s behind much of Stewart’s work. The boats, and many of the other things he makes, are activators to journeys on some other level. They are gateways to both connections to the historic boats they reference and triggers for one’s imagination.
As such, they are also a form of conceptual art. But not the kind of conceptual art that only exists as an idea, with no physical realization.
Each of the boats in Aquamata references a real boat made at various times in modern history, mostly for very wealthy people, racing enthusiasts, or simply those who derive pleasure from being on the water in the best possible water machine with visions of the journey being something other than the mundane process of getting from one place to another.
In many ways, the boats in Aquamata are related to other of Stewart’s work. They are as meticulously made as the 13 exquisite drawings Stewart produced as reinterpretations and expansions of text and drawn images in English poet and printmaker William Blake’s 1790 “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” in Stewart’s own book published in 1972.
The original drawings in this series should be in the permanent collection of the Knoxville Museum of Art. A few of the books, published in a limited edition of 100, are still available from Stewart’s studio, found online at www.fclarkstewart.com.
In some segments of the art world, craftsmanship and art production never coincide. Some artists’ work is so poorly made it’s fortunate to not fall off the wall or off the display pedestal. There’s even a bias against good workmanship, relegating well-made things to the world of craft, because, in these artists’ view, art is about the ideas, not about the object.
Not so with anything Stewart has made over the more than 40 years I have kept up with his work. His pieces are always more than what you pay for.
Aquamata continues at The District Gallery, 5113 Kingston Pike, through Oct. 27. Check the gallery’s website for hours: www.thedistrictgallery.com.