CONTINUUM FURNITURE BY ROBERT WHITLEY - Through June 4 at Seraph, 1132 29th Street NW.
It could be the throne of a potentate in a science-fiction film, maple legs set on pod-like feet. It appears to be hovering an inch or two off the ground.
"Throne Chair" is one of 14 pieces of sculptural furniture by Robert Whitley in a show at Seraph in Georgetown. There are also earlier pieces demonstrating his development as designer and woodworker, the most traditional a rocking chair with rounded spindles gently contouring the lower back.
But the spindles are light-years away from his Continuum series. "Chariot Chair" is a blend of curving lines in both the arms and legs and the curly maple wood. The appendages are alive-they flow, tumble and spill to the floor and seem to writhe back up again.
"It's a blend of tension and flow related to the unity between space, function and the sensuous human form," Whitley says.
No straight lines or 90-degree angles here. And his conceptualizing doesn't follow a linear pattern, either.
"I first see part of a design in my mind's eye," Whitley says: For a library ladder, he first visualized the supports and curvaceous lines. Contrasting with these diagonal and vertical lines was a horizontal plane of steps and a bookplate-later modified with curves and angles in the plywood model.
Only after he has perfected the idea does Whitley switch to the expensive woods, which are more precious than to me than gold. In a whole shipment of wood I will get no more than three crotch pieces to make chair seats."
Extravagant use of solid wood pieces. And wasteful. Whitley freely admits it. But it's the small touches that make his art ("I am a sculptor, not a craftsman") such a delight to behold. The underside of a chair or stool is as smoothly finished as the visible parts. No unsightly screws or nails dare show their heads. Only hand-planed ebony pegs with dogwood centers. A distinctive trademark.
His most recent design is a futuristic cabinet series with curved glass doors. The cabinet has an integral light system that illuminates in a diffused pattern. The hinges, pins and latch are all made entirely of wood.
Like all of Whitley's large pieces, it's easy to dismantle for transportation or repair. CAPTION: Picture, ROBERT WHITLEY'S THRONE CHAIR OF CURLEY WALNUT AND BIRD'S-EYE MAPLE.