Being a woodcarver in Bavaria seems an unlikely apprenticeship for a fine artist, but looking around this show, currently on at Sadie Coles, it all sort of makes sense. Paloma Varga Weisz started woodcarving in a tiny town in the mountains after being rejected from art school the first time round. After getting in at the second try, she began a more formal education in Düsseldorf, home of a crop of sober, straightforwardly honest artists and photographers of the late 20th century. On those terms, Weisz fits in well with that group, too.
This show is based around a little collection of small, wall-mounted sculptures of animals, part-human-part-animals and female nudes. They are ranged around a centrepiece: 'Man, Hanging' (2018), a wooden, ball-jointed mannequin dangling from the ceiling that seems poised and balanced: strange considering the abandonment of his pose. (I say 'he' because, unlike most wooden mannequins, this one has a face and a penis.)
My favourites of the smaller sculptures a little Daschund on its hind legs, and a sober lady with a barely-suggested expression, vessel balanced on her head.
The works are spiritually joined by a certain shared reticence, a mournful formality in their expressions. Even the figure of an adult stag, again up on its hind legs, faces the wall - almost to hold off any accusations of being a showoff. Such modesty extends through to the humbleness of the sculptures' materials: limewood, raw, burned and polychromed.
“Carving is very hard: it’s like peeling a wooden apple and you cannot correct mishaps,” Weisz has said. “It demands both great physical and imaginative effort and concentration.” The unforgiving modesty of limewood, in other words, renders the quality of Weisz's craft all the more impressive.
Paloma Varga Weisz: Wild Bunch is at Sadie Coles HQ (London). 9 June - 18 August 2018.