Exhibit features wood carvings

Justin Costley

Inspired by the writings of William Blake and Samuel Butler, Eugene Larkin uses his ‘flawless technique’ to bring blocks of wood to life with his carving blade in a new exhibition.
Larkin, a former University design professor, is showcasing his approach to wood cutting with 40 new works that are split into two exhibits at the University of St. Thomas. The collection will run until Dec. 1.
A 21-piece exhibit, titled, “The Erewhon Series,” is on display at the university’s Minneapolis campus. The other 19-piece exhibit, entitled “The Blake Series,” can be seen on the St. Paul campus.
“I hate to use a cliche, but I was just blown away the first time I saw it — my jaw just dropped to my chest,” said Dr. Shelly Nortrop-Madson, professor of Art History and member of the art exhibits committee at St. Thomas.
“The man is 74 years old, and he still has an incredibly steady hand for cutting wood blocks,” she said. “The imagination he uses combines with his flawless technique, and I think it’s the best stuff he’s ever done.”
Patty Martinson, administrative assistant in the paintings department at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, said these exhibits represent a wonderful change for Larkin.
“The works are just brilliant,” Martinson said. “They are beautiful and very compelling.”
The series takes its name from Samuel Butler’s novel, Erewhon, written in 1872. Larkin titled each piece in this exhibit after some arbitrary aspect of Butler’s work.
Larkin used a variety of plant and tree forms to represent aspects of the human characters in Butler’s novel. “The figures, although they are not human form, seem to take on human personalities,” he said.
In his other series, Larkin has re-titled and re-worked 19 earlier pieces into an exhibit which is based on William Blake’s poem, “Songs of Innocence and Experience.”
This exhibit, titled, “The Blade Series,” is also mostly made up of imaginary plant and tree forms. Larkin said that he chose Blake because he likes his work, and he hoped his carvings would take on some of the poems’ characteristics.
“They seem to have some of the feelings that come from Blake’s poems,” Larkin said. “They can be said to be very closely related.”
Stacy Hegg, an undergraduate student majoring in art history at St. Thomas, said that after seeing the Erewhon series, she is very interested in the literature for which these pieces are named.
“If you read the book, I’m sure you would find parallels,” Hegg said. “It is something that I would definitely look into reading.”
In addition to being an accomplished artist with works on display all over the world, Larkin has been a teacher of design and art history for nearly a half-century. He has also published a book on design.