Peter Woytuk is home for the holidays. The wide-ranging sculptor, who is spending time in Kent with his mother, is making good use of his time in Connecticut. He “cleared the decks” of old works this past weekend through a wildly popular open studio and is preparing for the opening this Saturday of his new show at Argazzi Gallery at 22 Millerton Road in Lakeville.
“I’ve been hanging with my mom, which has been fun, fun, fun, and consolidating an old studio I had here,” he said this week. “It’s out with the old and in with the new. I had too many things and I needed to get rid of some of it. The Open Studio was great—I must have moved 100 pieces. Judith (Singelis, owner of Argazzi Gallery) did a phenomenal job. It clears the deck for the next chapter.”
And what will the next chapter be? “Things will be different and not different,” said Woytuk, who has been known for decades as a preeminent interpreter of the animal form.
“This weekend will be a prelude, a test,” he said. “I’m keeping everything open. I may go back to Asia. I may go to Colorado to see what is left of the casting industry in this country. There’s some juggling. I love Asia but I know it well enough. I can hit the ground running and move efficiently (if I choose to go back there). Casting sculptures is very expensive and keeping options open gets you the best price.”
Meanwhile, in Lakeville, he is prepared to fill Argazzi’s space with “brand new Peter Woytuk.” In addition to returning to his first love, photography, he will display sculptures that are variations on past themes.
“It isn’t as specific as animal pieces any more. I am branching out into other forms, combining things and colors,” he said.
Like many a popular artist in any medium, he finds his fans like the classic pieces he has created. “If people want them, we can always find them on the secondary market,” said the artist, who has purposely kept editions of his sculptures small. “Or I can do them again—although they will not be precisely the same thing. I like to do multi-media pieces. I find it is accessible to people when I do a bird/door connection, for instance. I can’t help but stick a bird into anything—but I don’t want to plagiarize myself. It’s a moving forward process.”
His sinuous, playful animal figures—especially his insouciant crows, perching on stone benches, pedestals, stacks of fruit or each other—provide him with a freedom he has not found in the human form. They also provide an ideal means for exploring the elements of form, color and texture.
Area residents are familiar with his lounging bulls on the grounds of Hotchkiss School and in more recent work “natural forms” such as sticks, rocks and limbs, along with man-made objects such as cast-iron pieces, screws and the like, have become the components in assembling pieces.
Joining the bulls and ravens as frequent subjects are the comical guinea hens, their ovoid bodies, tiny head and prominent wattles creating forms rendered both comic and elegant. And, from time to time, he abandons all attempts at realism and breaks into pure whimsy, as with his exuberant kiwis, who dance, balance balls on their beaks and otherwise express their joy.
In his artist statement, Woytuk explains, “(My) past sculpture has been concerned with a distillation of animal shape into simpler forms and the resulting interplay of concave and convex masses. This dialectic is intensified by placing animals in groupings, creating environments where the negative space and the relationship between sculptures are as important as the sculptures themselves.”
Using Asian foundries in Thailand, Taipai and Shanghai that are accustomed to casting up to 10,000 pounds of bronze in a single pour has been a significant advantage in his globe-girdling artistic life, allowing him to work on a monumental scale.
His interest in sculpture is almost as old as he is. His mother, a talented textile artist, and his father, a prominent Boston architect who designed the Citicorp Center in New York, took the family on trips to Europe to seek out great art and architecture. The exposure at home and abroad spoke to something in the boy.
“I used to carry blobs of clay to school in my pockets when I was 7 and make little animals in class,” he said in an earlier interview. “Of course, I got in trouble and my mother had to go to school to talk to the teacher. She had to check my pockets every morning before I left the house.”
The itch to create never subsided and he graduated from Kenyon College in Ohio, where his focus was on photography. While there, he discovered the pleasure of working with metal, however, when he rolled his car and totaled it. He decided to convert the wreck to a “pipe car” he dubbed Shaky for the way it handled. “I made it street legal and drove it all the way from Ohio to Vermont and back,” he recalled. “I realized how much I enjoyed making things.”
Following college in the early 1980s, he served an Old World-style apprenticeship in sculpture with famed Connecticut sculptor, Philip Grausman, an experience that helped him develop the technical knowledge and skills needed to transform his artistic vision into sculptural form.
By 1986, Woytuk was showing his work in solo exhibitions and in 1998 a commission from the North Carolina Zoological Society resulted in four life-size bronze elephants for the park’s entrance. His sculpture is displayed in such collections as Dean Witter Reynolds in New York, Diane Von Furstenburg in New York, Grounds for Sculpture in New Jersey, Kenyon College in Ohio, the Weisman Museum at The University of Minnesota in Saint Paul and Texas Tech in Lubbock.
Now poised “for the next chapter,” Woytuk is looking forward to the holiday show at Argazzi. “The works will be on display all day,” he said, “but the wine starts flowing at 5 PM. (for the opening reception).
And after that? “Well, my hands are facile, the back’s not bad, the brain, ehhh,” he said self-deprecatingly. But one can be sure that no matter where he settles in this wide world, Woytuk’s wonderful, whimsical animals will continue to engage and entertain his audiences.
The Saturday opening runs from 5 to 7 PM. The show, which also contains works by Lisa Breznak, Helen Steele and Tom Yost, continues through January 20th.