Executed in 2012, Untitled is an archetypal example of British-born, New York based artist Adam McEwen's acclaimed graphite works. Cast from blocks of machine-chiseled graphite, the recognizable form of an ordinary metal shuttered gate takes on an entirely new identity, becoming both aesthetically and conceptually significant. Rendered entirely in dense, dark grey carbon, every detail of this specifically designed object has been faithfully recreated, while the very purpose of its existence, its working function, has been immobilized. Replicated in its original size and installed in such a way that it is experienced in as life-like way as possible, McEwen's radical treatment of an everyday object, habitual to most, commonly ignored, and highly atypical as the subject for an artwork, forces us to notice it. By engineering encounters with such objects in a fresh environment, McEwen's graphite works dramatically confront viewers with scenarios that dominate daily reality, but which over-familiarity has numbed us to. Transplanted from the innocuous, anonymous urban landscape of the street into the sacrosanct interior space of a home or gallery, Untitled presents a striking juxtaposition of quotidian concerns placed within the realm of fiction, beauty and fantasy.
Densely monochromatic from afar but with reflective elements that glisten as they are approached, the material of Untitled is instantly recognizable as graphite - a substance with obvious artistic associations. Working with graphite since 2007, McEwen enjoys its accessibility, saying: "The thing I like about [graphite] is how familiar it is. In a sense, maybe I would hope, democratic. Because pretty much everyone from the age of 4 onwards knows what an HP pencil looks like. They know that color, they know what it's like to pick it up and draw a line with it. So, maybe, I use newspapers or I use signs or I use everyday objects - which are all available in that sense," (A. McEwen, quoted in http://artandseek.net/2012/04/16/qa-adam-mcewan/#sthash.nqpzZV7m.dpuf, accessed 26 March 2014).
The implicit irony and gentle, dead-pan humor of using such a traditional medium in this radical way in these works is not lost on McEwen. Not only does he make something that is ordinarily only a tool of the artist into the actual artwork, but has pointed out that, theoretically, like a pencil mark, it can be gradually erased. A further dimension is added to these works by the fact that although the graphite lends the sculptures an abstract simplicity redolent of Minimalist compositions, when touched they are not as they seem. McEwen has noted: "The back story to minimalism is not one of a pure and holy aura. There is a more human and dirty and flawed back story and I thought the graphite could get to that," (A. McEwen, quoted in P. Knowles 'On Grace of Graphite' in Soma Magazine, Vol 23.3, Spring 2009).
The urban fabric of New York inspires much of McEwen's work, which is frequently a response to an expatriate's frisson of finding what is seen as normal to most, new and exhilarating. "I spend a lot of time walking around the streets in New York and I get a kick from the combination of grime and beautiful architecture of the city. It's brutal but positive at the same time," McEwen has said. "It took a place like New York to find a joy in that. Trying to deal with the information overload allows me to find things to work with," (A. McEwen, ibid.).