Woods sculpture celebrated for its formal beauty


Consisting of 30 squared-off tree trunks elaborately carved with a chainsaw and arranged in an orderly open grid, Shigeo Toya’s Woods III 1991–92 (illustrated) on display at the Queensland Art Gallery until 27 January 2025 is celebrated for its formal beauty as well as its poetic and philosophical allusions.

For Toya, the recesses and crevices created by his chainsaw laid bare the internal material qualities of the wood. The act of carving is an inscription — evidence of the artist’s intervention through mark-making, and an excavation — removing accumulated layers to reveal what they might conceal.

Shigeo Toya ‘Woods III’ 1991-92

Shigeo Toya, Japan b.1947 / Woods III 1991-92 / Wood, ashes and synthetic polymer paint / 30 pieces: 220 x 30 x 30cm; 220 x 530 x 430cm (installed) / The Kenneth and Yasuko Myer Collection of Contemporary Asian Art. Purchased 1994 with funds from The Myer Foundation and Michael Sidney Myer through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation and with the assistance of the International Exhibitions Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Shigeo Toya

Toya investigates the nature of sculpture, perception and materials, working almost exclusively with wood, particularly tree trunks. His best-known, and ongoing, series of works is entitled ‘Woods’, these take the form of a stand of squared-off trunks, set out in single file or as an open grid of standing trees.

The formal beauty of Woods III is its regular spacing intimating infinite space as an endless sweep of forest. The top of each trunk has incised parallel linear cuts with jagged edges that evoke twisted branches or foliage. The roughness of the cuts reveals the inner layers of the material; its interior comes to the surface.

The textures and patterning of the tops contrast with the sobriety of the solid trunks. This is further underlined through the rubbing onto the textured surfaces of the ashes of burned wood cuttings, as well as through the rivulets of acrylic paint that run down the trunks. Toya has developed a concept he calls ‘minimalbaroque’ to describe this relationship between patterned or Baroque complexity and minimal simplicity.