The microscope and the camera served as lenses for David Eisenhour during his childhood. Through them, he zeroed in on nature and marveled at the forms, patterns and details. As an adult, after a few decades of experimenting with photography, painting, welding and other metalwork, Eisenhour moved to the Olympic Peninsula in 1992 to work with Riverdog Foundry in Chimacum and became a full-time sculptor in 2003.
He continues to use a microscope as a source of inspiration for his sculptures of pods, seeds and ocean forms, which are rendered with intense detail and texture. Crafted out of his favored media of bronze, stainless steel, stone and cast concrete, they are striking pieces. Understandably, the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art (which is nearing its one-year mark) has offered him his first solo exhibition, in keeping with its focus on artists and collections from the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas and the Puget Sound region in general.
It’s an arresting show that lays out Eisenhour’s creative evolution. His early works are more realistic, while his more recent works are both more abstract and more specific in their concentration on topics such as ocean acidification.
I particularly liked the hands-on area with a dissecting microscope attached to a large monitor. Visitors can bring in their own natural tidbits or select from the items neatly organized in plastic boxes. My daughter and I spent almost an hour observing and drawing on the large pads of paper that were available. “Just like an artist,” she said, and she was right.
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In his studio, Eisenhour has his own tackle boxes full of specimens and has written about the process of looking and comparing: “The recognition of the patterns of life that I see triggers a feeling of belonging to something grand.”
And in that lovely statement, I find the reason for my small quibble with the exhibition. While Eisenhour’s sculptures are engaging as individual pieces, they are particularly strong in groups that encourage us to sense an interrelatedness or to contemplate the processes of collection, observation and display. Online, I have seen some of the artist’s previous installations — works are scattered around a space or neatly displayed in a row — which leads me to think this kind of approach is appealing to him.
Here at BIMA, there are a few moments like this. A small series of limpets clings to the wall, suggesting an enlarged, fantastical layout of natural-history specimens. And another area of the exhibition goes almost far enough in suggesting a habitat; exquisite and strange jellyfish hang from the ceiling near other marine-inspired, wall-hanging creatures.
I’m sure there was a curatorial concern to represent a variety of his work over time, but I would have liked these groupings to be more densely evocative or even more scientific, to go just a bit further in creating immersive or conceptual environments.
But some of the stand-alone works do encourage us to think about the way we view the natural world. “Seedling,” for example, is clearly a seedling. But at almost a foot and a half tall, its enlarged scale renders something strong and almost monstrous out of something so small and fragile. The scale allows us to notice the delicate veining of the young leaves and the graceful curve of the stem. Eisenhour’s play with materials is also thought-provoking. Is the metal seedling emerging out of the stone base, in a feat of survival? Or is the rock actually the seedpod, showing the sameness of forms across nature?
These connections among material, form, process and nature permeate Eisenhour’s work. It conjures up ideas about reproduction and transformation. In fact, in writing about his love of casting molten metal, he states, “There is something very primal about the casting process — like the earth giving birth to mountains.”