Jeff Muhs is an American sculptor and painter, whose abstract work sits alongside his figurative works in a way that shouldn’t make sense but, philosophically does. Aesthetically, they don’t share much commonalities, but the idea of picking apart form and figure is the golden thread that binds his oeuvre.
The distinct differences in his work mean that he’s gained a reputation for both, as a pack of the Jeff Muhs package and as Muhs the sculptor and Muhs the painter. To understand the man as a whole, we're best looking at both of these constituent parts. So, what are his sculptures about? Muhs has developed an innovative way to shape concrete, to form it in such a way that it takes on flabby human proportions, like a monument to the obese.
Adding to the perversity of his subject, Muhs adds rope, transporting his work into the realm of bondage and BDSM, sexualising the figure that couldn’t be further from popular conceptions of beauty. Manipulating the physicality of his object in this way also has sculptural and structural connotations.
His pieces look unbalanced, chaotic, almost unevenly produced, defying conventions of proportions and equilibrium. The process, dubbed by the artist as ‘dynamic free casting’, gives the artist scope to challenge what he thinks of as control over the medium, with the rope performing as an extension to the theme of control - both control over the subject and control over the laws of sculpture itself.
In other works, we see bulbous legs stuffed into glamorous red high heels, perhaps satirising the very idea of beauty in art or, if we are to think more about the subject, we could derive that the artist is interested in the various extents that individuals will go to in order to ‘fit’ into the conventional concepts of beauty - straddling the fine line between hoping for beauty, but landing with ugly.
Muhs, in setting out to interrogate the relationship we have with perceptions of beauty, has chosen to examine this in humans through his sculptures.
There is also a whole world of natural beauty around us and, for that, Muhs opts to utilise painting, in his abstract and expressive forms, to visualise the Long Island landscapes of his youth, injecting his work with strong emotions through bursts of colour and a sort of spiritually symbolic presentation of light and space.
Muhs' fascination with the natural world can be attributed to his father, also an artist, who supplemented his own creative endeavours by working as a hunting and fishing guide. Passing his generational knowledge, acquired both through study and firsthand experience, down to the younger Muhs, a sense of childlike wonder comes across in his paintings. They're a hyper version of reality, abstracted to magnificence, desirous of nature itself being capable of invoking the same euphoric feelings as one might experience through viewing his work. They are, for lack of better phrasing, nature amplified.
Dynamic and kinetic, the inherent characteristics of nature are brought into his works through the very process of their conception. Applying a ‘gestural’ approach, Muhs can paint several works on the same canvas, layering each piece as if creating a depth-of-field that encompasses the flora and fauna of particular environments. Nature, its laws and its hierarchies playing out before us.
In some paintings, we are faced with awe-inspiring sunrises and sunsets, in others, we might have rain. Reflecting the changing nature of our weather, our environment and indeed our very appreciation of the world around us, Muhs makes sure that his paintings faithfully capture the sense of a world in flux. Through his sculptures and paintings, we get a more holistic view into Muhs the artist - somebody examining our world with the materials and mediums that make sense, mapping out beauty as both a universal and particular trait, something that comes alive through art.
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