Named after the larger-than-life character from American folklore, John Henry combines hardcover books, clamps, sawhorses, and steel with logic defying engineering. In John Henry, David Adey implements the traditional principles used in bridge design to brace two elevated rows of books between the walls of the gallery. Everything used to guide the structure of this installation, including trapezoidal keystone blocks that push the books upward and thin wooden shims that reciprocate the pressure downward, is visible and marks the “backyard experiment” element of the process. As with Adey’s previous works, in which long hours were spent learning the physics of specific materials and developing a successful method of exercising them, it is always the ideas that carry from piece to piece—not always the material.
John Henry exemplifies a conceptual process that is informed by a particular set of constraints the artist establishes in a match between opposing forces (success and failure), each time rendering something new and unexpected. “Once it’s under way, I’m not so much making aesthetic decisions on an intuitive level as trying to fulfill an idea,” says Adey. The finished work speaks of futility, pressure, and spectacle, feats of strength, absurdity, faith, poetry, and death.
An appropriately heroic interpretation of this enduring American legend, “John Henry” represents the human sense of purpose derived from working towards understanding and accomplishment, whether out of necessity or curiosity. The exhibition will include several large-scale drawings.
David Adey is a graduate of Cranbrook Academy of Art (MFA, 2002) and Point Loma Nazarene University (BFA, 1999). He is a recipient of the 2010-2011 San Diego Art Prize in the Emerging Artist category and this coming June his work will be included in Here Not There, a survey exhibition being organized by Lucia Sanroman at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Most recently, his work was seen at the La Jolla Athenaeum of Music and Arts Library, ZOOM, at the Torrance Art Museum, and Cut: Makings of Removal, at Wignall Museum of Art, Chaffey College. David Adey has participated in exhibitions in Los Angeles, New York, Berlin, Miami, and San Diego.