At Petzel, the primary motif involves small graphite sculptures of everyday objects—the keycard reader on the door of a hotel room; a thermostat; 3D glasses—mounted on images of those same objects. The works play on McEwen’s notion that the graphite sculptures are “sketches” in the way that a sketch on paper is the plan, not the actual work—an idea supported by the parallels between the use of graphite pencils to make sketches, and McEwen’s use of graphite to make sketch-sculptures.
As Petzel’s elegantly knotty press release puts it, “McEwen’s graphite sculptures are three-dimensional drawings of the idea of a thing”—the idea of the thing, and yet still official Adam McEwen sculptures. The contrast between the shadowy graphite rendering and the image of that same object is slightly dystopian, a tension McEwen likened to the science fiction novels of J.G. Ballard.
Much of the preparation for the gallery show was in the wind-up; McEwen would take pictures of certain objects that amused or confused him on his phone, coming back to them later. If the object was sufficiently amusing or confusing, he would then 3D-print a version of the object in graphite. He liked things that were “obvious, but also cast aside.” The metal foot-measurer you’d find at a shoe store, for instance, is something instantly familiar, yet strange; old-fashioned, but not yet replaced by new technology.