Over Edgecomb way at Eben Blaney’s Fine Contemporary Furniture studio/showroom, there’s something new, something much smaller scale than his gorgeous, inventive tables, chairs and consoles. Eben has created carved, relief wall sculptures of mahogany.
Each of the seven wall sculptures are so textural, you can’t help but touch them.
And in the sunlight the wood grain and ebonizing technique really pop. Mesmerizing is the word that comes to mind. No, really. Remember the lava lamps back in the 70s? How many of us became mesmerized by the shapes and formations of the lava? Some of these wall sculptures have the same effect: They are round trip tickets to wherever your imagination takes you.
In late January, after finishing commission work, Eben really felt like cutting loose from the functionality. He’d done other wood sculptures in the past and has done numerous drawings and sketches for others. He knew he had a seven-foot board of mahogany … a perfect canvas, if you will, for the wall sculptures he had in mind for this year, anyway. He did one every week or two, between commissions.
“These are all fairly quick studies of designs/ideas not necessarily related. They came from sketches I was doing at the time and others that came from my sketchbook that I liked,” Eben explained. “The intention was to produce them rather quickly and later expand on some of the more successful ones with larger sculptures or ones comprised of multiple panels.”
All of the seven wall sculptures are ebonized – and, no, “ebonized” isn’t a play on his name although he said people do find it endlessly amusing – myself included!
Ebonizing is a staining technique used to blacken surfaces. Eben makes his own with vinegar and steel wool. He rinses out the oils from the steel wool and places it in the vinegar in a container with a tight-fitting top and lets it sit overnight or, more often, a day and a half. Before applying it to wood, the liquid is strained through coffee filters to remove any steel wool bits and … voila! Only a tea remains.
He applies it right away because the longer it sits it turns red from the iron. The reaction of the tea solution with the natural tannins in wood produces the ebony color. Ah, artistic alchemy!
After ebonizing, each wall sculpture has been lightly burnished or distressed before being finished with oil or wax. Sometimes he’ll just use a commercial dye.
“I would do that with furniture tops, burnish the edges to bring out the depth.”
If you are familiar with Eben’s furniture – and if you are not, get thee to his website – he creates furniture that has a life about it; the wood grain is not lost in his work; it is an essential, trademark finish.
But back to the wall sculptures …
The first piece he created in the series is “Shards.” Laughing, he said, “It’s one of the shapes I work with a lot … triangles! It lends itself to a minimal look, but it’s all in the juxtaposition of the shapes.”
“Shards” looks like triangular bits of broken glass with varying ridges and rises complemented by the ebonizing. Those ridges and rises are fun to explore with your hands … In the sunlight, there was a surreal shine on some, but not all, of the shards. Such fun!
“I wanted to cut loose from functionality. The structure of the size made it necessary to be very concise, and the detail is unlike my furniture.”
Not only was he taking the time to cut loose from functionality, he was also using different tools. A combination of hand tools: knives, routers, chisel and hammer.
“It’s all hand work and it was really gratifying. A little like boatbuilding where you do have to do a lot by hand,” Eben said, referring back to his years working with his boatbuilder dad, Roy Blaney.
“Artifact” dazzles in the sunlight! It’s also Eben’s favorite in the series. There is such movement within the ripple-like layers that are reminiscent of sunlight on the water. The wood grain really pops – as you would expect from anything Eben creates.
He’s been putting the sculptures on his website as they were finished. He also did some posting on Instagram and other social media venues. From that exposure Eben has a commission for larger versions of three of the seven from a past client. These will be 15” x 15”.
Eben plans on making more of these seven, as well as continuing this line of inquiry, to explore the depths of this series … who knows where it will take him.
Like other artists in the area during this time of COVID-19, sheltering in place and social distancing, he considers himself fortunate. “I was in a creative space where there was no expectation. It gave me a different head space. There was nothing of the everyday ... And, I’m no stranger to self-isolation.” Chuckling, he said: “We’ve (artists) been training for this ...”
He really wants people to see the wall sculptures in person – and right now the showroom is open by appointment only. He is also observing state protocol: Masks must be worn and hands sanitized. The best way to contact him is by email: email@example.com
Eben Blaney Fine Contemporary Furniture is at 96 Eddy Road. And do make sure you go on a sunny day to really get the full effect of each of these gorgeous wall sculptures.