Ben Godward’s often bulbously muscular, varicolorfully sprawling, polychemically enlivened sculptures comprising scores upon foamy scores of catch-as-catch-can forms have likely left many viewers confused and amused, cowed and wowed, surprised and maybe a slight bit terrified in recent years. Requesting less that you regard, calmly read, or merely see them, Godward’s works thrust into your space and force you to deal with them. Onlooker, in other words, you are not; combatant, perhaps, is more apt. The relationship is one of confrontation with comico-chromatic menace: bring a shield, a cudgel, an axe.
Or not. For however comedic the threat (a desk chair frozen in the mid-explosion of an office assault, for example, or just stuck there forever in some cyclical non-job), or however threatening the comedy (a drippy slag-strewn tree of post-waste array whose colors invite you closer, the better it might eat you), Godward has always claimed that his interests lie less in the force of commentary than in the pursuit of fun. His foam-bloat-tending processes of mixing, pouring, spreading and formally cajoling resinous substances around, in and through sieves and frameworks grow out of loose plans and mental mock-ups, but end products are up to the limits and whimsies inherent to spaces and materials—unless the former open up to leave him greater freedom with the latter, as was the case at Socrates Sculpture Park, where Godward went both dauntingly gargantuan and, however unintentionally eponymously, skyward.
To have so much fun sounds like a lot of playing around, but this artist minces no words thereabout. Testimony enough can be found in the title of his current solo exhibition, Play (at Norte Maar, through March 24). All the same, while fun elements are not lacking in this show, Godward’s playfulness is here tamed into coming full circle—in the relative confines of squares and cubes. The results are some of his best works yet. While his mixed-media sculpture in the gallery’s front room, Voitenko vs. Berkeley, squats weighty with trademark massivity, its form is not swollen, rather restrained: a great cloven cube in which a heavy payload of volatile fun has been delimited, reined in, contained. As viewers look at it, in it, and through it, the relationship of confrontation gives way to exploration; laughter and fear become clinical curiosity. Approach it in a hurt locker and take a good look inside to find an inter-impacted gape of implosion, an 'intreme' inversion of playful explosion. Something or someone, at some point, had a total blast—then messily stuck around.
In adjacent rooms are differently surprising works ranging from digital scannings of cans, packing ties and looming hands to vibrant, abstract nail-polish paintings on substrates of lottery tickets robbed of chance. The colors here reference the sculpture quite directly, so they also read as 'funtimes' confined, quieted, framed. Relics of his own three-dimensional works or post-studies thereof, these pieces too suggest that Godward can both have more fun and play a better game by giving himself more rules to follow and variably break. Leave armor and arms aside in viewing Play, but suit up all the same for a feast for your eyes.
Image courtesy Norte Maar and Fortress of Solitude