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Gehard Demetz

The Italian artist's wooden sculptures of children carry objects inspired by war and religion

There’s something haunting about Italian Gehard Demetz’s breathtaking sculptures, in which he pairs figures of children with various objects that often touch upon themes of religion or war, creating a stark contrast of power. Wearing serene expressions upon their faces it’s clear Demetz is not portraying the figures as victims. The artist seeks to communicate the idea that for once children are in a commanding role, that they hold a secret, a knowledge.

I assemble the ideas of my work by reading and living. I try to create a dialogue, to make questions and to think over possible answers with every sculpture

Trained in sculpture, Demetz is a true craftsman uses an array of textures and skills in his work. Constructed from wooden blocks, the lines where the blocks fit together remain exposed in his sculptures but despite this there’s a fluidity and smoothness to the finer details. Here Demetz tells us about his process of making the complex sculptures and the choices he makes when creating them.

Dazed Digital: Where did you learn your craft?
Gehard Demetz: My interest in sculpture goes back to my childhood, when I was enchanted by those huge religious statues. In Val Gardena there is a consolidated artistic tradition of sculpting that goes back more than three hundred years. I spent the first six years of my training as a sculptor in the Art School in Selva, the village I was born in and where I live today.

DD: What’s your process when creating a sculpture? Where do your ideas come from?
Gehard Demetz:
I retain the idea with small sketches and drawings. As a second step I build up a mould of the figure with wooden pieces – module. This technique enables me to construct and to remove with curving steels and the same time. Usually I begin with the head and adapt the rest of the body to the facial expression. The skin related parts become tensioned and subsequently smoothed with sandpaper. 

I assemble the ideas of my work by reading and living. I try to create a dialogue, to make questions and to think over possible answers with every sculpture. I work with pictures of children, overleaping them with these adults. I want the child in their position to have an expression that looks grown-up.

DD: Your work uses children as the main subject, what’s the intention behind this? Do you find it interesting to put them in a position of power?
Gehard Demetz:
My sculptures transmit the awareness of becoming adults and thus losing, as Rudolf Steiner says, their ability to be able to “hear” their unconscious. They live with the burden of guilt transmitted from generation to generation, which does not belong to them. They are children who feel sad about not being able to really be children, but who have, on the other hand, the possibility of choosing to become adults, totally independently, thus freeing themselves little by little of all the influences transmitted by their ancestors. They are witness to all the effort involved in the process of growth and development, which is achieved through individual will and concentration.

DD: The children are paired with different objects, often weapons or religious iconography- why is this? Do you like this stark contrast?
Gehard Demetz:
The sculpture and the object work together. They belong to each other also if sometimes the object or the sculpture can be interpreted differently. I like that everybody comprehends my work with his own feelings, depending on his past, his experiences and his background, constructing his own stories. My greatest ambition is to start a dialogue between my sculptures and those who look at them.

DD: What are the reasons for the visible gaps between the blocks in your sculptures?
Gehard Demetz:
My sculptures are modelled piece by piece and the building up of the wooden elements recalls the growing up of a child with his fragility and uncompleted procedure.

DD: What are your plans for this year?
Gehard Demetz:
At the moment I am preparing sculptures for an exhibition for the gallery Jack Shainman in New York and for different Art fairs as the Armory Show and Art Cologne.