Artist: Samuel Jernigan
Exhibition: Weight of Whimsy and Ideals
Media: Ceramic, wood, steel, paint, installation
Gallery: CSULB School of Art, Gatov Gallery West
About the Artist: Samuel Jernigan was raised in agricultural central California, near Fresno, then relocated to the Bay Area as a teen. He is currently studying ceramics, and enjoys reading in his spare time.
Formal Analysis: Jernigan’s exhibition Weight of Whimsy and Ideals uses large ceramic and wood sculptures in the shapes of children’s toys and cartoon characters. Taking about four months of work, the installations vary in size and content, and were inspired by toys that Jernigan found at a local swap meet. In the front of the exhibition was a large bust of a woman’s head, stylized in a cartoon manner, and without eyes. Like many of the sculptures, it was a colorless beige, and it made the piece feel unfinished and in the middle of a process. Two smaller sculptures resembled fish from the works of Dr. Seuss and were painted a soft orange and blue. In the middle of the room was a table reminiscent of a toy maker’s workbench; on the table were various ceramic figures and body parts also partly constructed and unfinished, and underneath were cartoon shoes and feet. A tall cartoon character holding a cookie stood in one corner. All of the installments were either very lightly painted or not painted at all, making the room give off a natural feeling, and the sculptures themselves were very lively and energetic.
Content Analysis: Weight of Whimsy and Ideals explores the themes of mortality and material objects. Although inanimate objects like toys are not alive, does that mean that they are also finite? Jernigan addresses the nature of nostalgia and mortality by presenting larger versions of toys that appear worn and aged, suggesting that they too will find an end as we do. The sculptures remind us of childhood innocence, a time when we did not think about the big picture of life and our role in it. The “toys” look lonely, like they have not been played with for many years, left alone to die. This clash between bittersweet nostalgia and the mysterious nature of death resonates throughout the exhibit.
My Experience: I found Jernigan’s Weight of Whimsy and Ideals to be powerful and sentimental. The toys, in their blown up size, still appear the same as they did when they were small. It made me feel like I was shrunken down to their proportion, and it made it easier to see the weathering on the surface. Seeing the Dr. Seuss fish made me feel wistful, bringing me back to the moments where I would read his books and look at his pictures. Although the sculptures appeared childlike, their separation and isolation from one another brought about a cold atmosphere. The figures stood around the gallery like lonely spirits as people weaved their way through and around them. The detail and care put into the exhibit is very apparent, and I walked away from it with a sense of nostalgia and contemplation.