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Thursday 28 March 2013

Visiting Joachim Seitfudem's 'Zeitgeist' exhibition: a contemporary twist from a background of traditional Bavarian woodcarving

Today I visited an exhibition at a small pop-up gallery on College Green in Bristol called 'Zeitgeist'.
The exhibitor, Joachim Seitfudem, is a woodcarver from Bavaria who is now living in Bristol and whose father, Hans-Joachim Seitfudem, is a well-respected master carver in the Bavarian tradition.

It was very interesting talking to Joachim about how his father encouraged his carving from an early age. A lot of the woodcarving from that area depicts religious subjects, which isn't surprising when you consider that one of the main towns near the place that he grew up in is Oberammergau, famed for it's Christian passion plays (theatre re-enacting the suffering and death of Jesus).

A work in progress in the corner of the exhibition

In Britain, the religious upheavals following the Reformation during the 16th and 17th centuries mean that there isn't a continuous heritage of ecclesiastical carving. A lot of older church carvings were also deliberately destroyed by the Puritans, in their general campaign to make the country a more 'pious', drabber and more boring place. How many carvers must have lost their livelihoods or gone abroad in those times, when regular carving work must have been hard to find?

It's interesting to see, as a woodcarver, how the carving tradition is followed in areas like Bavaria or Austria which weren't subject to the same kind of disruptions as those experienced here. Joachim said that his father encouraged his carving from an early age, giving him exercises like carving a piece using only one gouge and sometimes destroying his son's pieces that weren't up to scratch (sounds brutal, but you certainly wouldn't make the same mistakes twice!) Some of these early exercises are on show in the corner of the gallery.

Carving figures in deep relief inside a piece of wood, surrounded by a 'frame' of unworked wood, seems to be feature of a lot of Hans-Joachim's work, although he also produces a lot of beautiful works in the round. Some of his son Joachim's early studies, like those shown above, also show this presentation style. 

All of the carvings in the exhibition are executed in linden, or lime, wood (Tilia sp.) More recent work by Joachim in the exhibition combines  the woodcarvings with found objects, mainly clock parts or pieces of bog oak, to make artworks with a much more contemporary feel to them. It can sometimes be hard to get metal and wood to work well together, but the old brass clock mechanisms work well with the lime wood. For some reason patinated, old metal often seems to work better visually with wood than shiny new metal to my eyes. The carvings show how Joachim's father's teaching and his traditional carving background have given him a strong sense of the human form, which the exaggerated musculatures of some of the figures in the more contemporary-styled pieces really display.

If you would like to see the exhibition, it is on until the 2nd April. You can see more of Joachim's work on his website at

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