Angels. Saints. Cherubic children. Warthogs.
Taken all together, these are among the iconic images that make up sculptor Charles Stigliano’s outlook on the world.
And although warthogs may sound somewhat incongruous in juxtaposition with the more traditional subjects for sculptors, viewers of Stigliano’s work quickly become accustomed to seeing them everywhere. A life-sized warthog carved in wood. A baby riding a warthog. An elderly man struggling with a warthog.
Stigliano explained that he uses the warthog as a symbol for himself — and it all dates back to a film he saw on TV in the 1970s in which a man fretting about his own perceived unattractiveness says “Look at me, I’m a warthog.”
Something about this self-deprecating angle on self-image coupled with the use of a wild animal as a stand-in for a person appeals to Stigliano. As a college student, he created a life-sized statue of a centaur, drawn to the idea of something that is part human and part animal, but later it occurred to him that “horses seemed too noble to represent some of the things people do.
“Warthogs are so ugly and primitive looking, but also kind of beautiful,” he said.
Unlike for his depiction of the mythical centaur, though, Stigliano wanted man and animal to be clearly delineated as separate beings, so he makes them interacting rather than combined.
Stigliano’s warthogs are among his 24 pieces in “Iconic Story — Sculpture in Wood,’’ an exhibition opening Sunday at Contemporary Arts International in Acton.
Each of the figures is carved into the top of a poplar post. “The idea was that if the space for a figure was already defined, the movement of the figure would be limited to that space,” the sculptor explained. “Each post defines the figure’s borders.”
If the angels, children, animals, and saints in this exhibition don’t always seem thematically linked, Stigliano said, there’s a good reason. “In working on these pieces over a two-year time period, I decided I was going to carve any images that came to me and just see what happened,” he said. “I wasn’t going to worry about what they all meant. That’s why some of them seem unrelated.”
Hence a figure of Giuseppe Verdi, inspired by the music playing while the artist was carving a piece of wood. The angels, shown covering their eyes or looking distressed, were inspired by a Harriet Beecher Stowe quote Stigliano admired: “Let us hope that angels look tenderly down on the sins of too much love.”
And yet, according to Stigliano, religious iconography in art need not always be somber. The Massachusetts College of Art professor said he tries to communicate his passion for ancient and classical works both through his own sculptures and as a mentor to his students, and admits to being motivated sometimes by the wish to convey humor or irony.
“The way saints have historically been represented by artists can be funny,” he said. “It is traditional for St. Peter the Martyr to be facing the viewer and gesturing in disbelief with a big blade stuck in his head. St. Sebastian is often portrayed with arrows stuck in him. Some of these strike me as almost comical. To see someone staring at you with a knife stuck in their head? I think that’s funny. St Bartholomew was skinned and is often shown holding his skin, so I did some sketches where he’s holding his skin in front of him as if it’s an outfit he’s about to try on.
“When I don’t know what I’m going to do next and have 10 pounds of clay, I’ll just start shaping something.”
One of Stigliano’s students at Mass. Art many years ago was Yin Peet, now founder and curator of Contemporary Arts International, so it seems fitting that he is celebrating his 30th anniversary of teaching at the college with a show at a former student’s gallery.
The exhibition runs through June 25 at Contemporary Arts, 68 Quarry Road in Acton, with an opening reception on June 1 from 2 to 5 p.m. featuring a talk by Stigliano at 2:30. The show will be open Fridays through Mondays from 1 to 4 p.m. and by appointment. Admission is $10, or $5 for children.
‘‘FANTASTICKS’’ ON STAGE: Steps Off Broadway is opening its production of “The Fantasticks,” known as the world’s longest running musical for its 52-year run in Manhattan, this weekend at its theater space at 799 South Main St. in Bellingham.
Performances are Saturday and Sunday, as well as May 30, 31, and June 1. Tickets are $15, or $12 for seniors and groups of six or more. Tickets can be purchased by calling 508-876-9797, or at the box office before the show. Reservations are recommended.
ECLECTIC MIX: Five artists are collaborating on an exhibition called “Out of True” at Room 83 Spring, a new Watertown gallery designed to combine art with community.
The show is running through next Thursday at 83 Spring St., with gallery hours Thursdays 2 to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m., as well as by appointment. On exhibit are giant pencils and small wooden sculptures by Paul Angiolillo of Watertown; tiny human sculptures by multimedia artist Cat Bennett of Watertown; and works by painter and collage artist Frances Hamilton, fiber artist Phyllis Poor, and stitching artist Maggie Stern.