Robyn Sassen

A burnished menagerie


KING of the beasts, at rest and with mirth, a work by Michael Teffo. Photograph by Robyn Sassen.

IS IT CARVED wood? Or is it burnished clay? Maybe it is made of flesh and blood? Nothing is completely obvious in this biblically loaded exhibition of beasties which you know and others from the annuls of sculptor Michael Teffo’s sense of whimsy. Either way, you will want to eat the texture of these pieces,  currently on show at the SA Association of the Arts. Collectively, the work has a rich numinous quality to it, that doesn’t allow you to categorise what you see with ease. And as such, these monster-animals are compelling and friendly, magicking the smallness of the gallery space into something uncontainable.

There are close to 30 works in the narrow exhibiting space at the far end of the venue, and yet, they sit comfortably together – maybe waiting, like the sculptured hedges in Stephen King’s The Shining, to move surreptitiously when you aren’t looking.  Either way, the play of three dimensional work with relief carvings that are inked up and hung on the walls, is a complex curatorial achievement that doesn’t fight for air.

The biblical essence of this body of work is strong, but stronger is the manner in which incidents in the original chunks of what seems to be driftwood are given voice. There’s a dog that’s also a cock in this collection. And a frog that casts the limits of frogness to the wind. There’s a lion that embraces the joys of his power with a torsion that is as much about ‘lionness’ as it is about a gnarled piece of wood worked on with love and focus.

It’s an exhibition of whimsy and the bible that will engage the curious child in you, but this is not to say that the work is unsophisticated or childish. Rather, it is about grabbing the quirky essence of a beast and allowing it to peer through the reddened or blackened surface of the medium and in doing so, skip the boundaries of taxonomy, with levity and grace.

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