NORTH TONAWANDA — In his poem about the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland, William Butler Yeats referred to the execution of the rebellion’s leaders as a “terrible beauty,” a tragedy that would eventually lead to a reinvigoration in the Irish fight to get out from under British rule.
Out of the deaths, came something beautiful and inspiring.
Matthew Tyree is set to show that he, too, has found some sort of beauty in tragedy with his sculpture show at Project 308 Gallery in North Tonawanda, opening Friday. Tyree’s show, “Ground Zero,” is inspired by the time he spent as an EMT responding to the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent months he helped recover bodies and clean up the World Trade Center site.
“Ground Zero,” which will be up at the gallery until April 10, is Tyree’s senior thesis show as a culmination of his sculpture degree at Buffalo State College.
The Long Island native said he always wanted to be an artist, but his fine arts education was delayed when he made the move to become an EMT.
“I was certified as an EMT and eventually worked my way into the fire department. I put my artwork on hold but it was something that never really left me,” he said. “After some of my 9/11 experiences I was getting burnt out.”
He moved to Western New York six years ago and returned to school at Buffalo State. But just as his artwork was something that never really left him, neither did his experiences at Ground Zero.
“The work I’m doing now is inspired by my memories of being at Ground Zero and the things I’ve seen and had to do,” Tyree said.
Most of his sculptures are abstract representations of his time there such as one work inspired by the shape of a bag pipe — a musical instrument often associated with funerals of police and firefighters.
“One of the forms I was working with was basically abstractions of bagpipes because whenever we found a firefighter or police officer, the whole site would shut down and the workers would line up and salute the body as it was being escorted into the ambulance,” Tyree said, adding that he would often hear bagpipes playing in his head during those solemn moments.
Natalie Brown, owner of the gallery, described Tyree’s large sculptures as “rugged” with “an underlying strength.”
“They’re very reminiscent of a building, but he likes to focus on persevering, so they’re beautiful at the same time,” Brown said. “He has an interesting balance of using concrete but making it look almost comforting.”
Tyree said he uses plaster, concrete, rebar and other assorted building and construction materials to create his sculptures to “help convey the message” and tie the pieces to some of the material he helped clean up at Ground Zero.
The sculptures are large — one as tall as 7 feet — and the materials can be hard and physically exhausting to manipulate, another echo of his grueling work after 9/11.
“It’s very labor intensive but that’s also another element of my work I love,” Tyree said. “There’s definitely a physical relationship involved and ... it’s also something I enjoy doing, whether it’s using the power tools to cut the stone or chisel, or working on the surface quality of the pieces.”
“Home Depot loves me,” he said with a laugh.
The opening reception for “Ground Zero” is 7 to 9 p.m. Friday at Project 308 Gallery. The gallery’s regular hours of operation are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday and by appointment by calling 523-0068.
IF YOU GO • WHAT: "Ground Zero," sculpture by Matthew Tyree • WHEN: Friday through April 10; opening reception 7 to 10 p.m. Friday • WHERE: Project 308 Gallery, 308 Oliver St., North Tonawanda • MORE INFORMATION: Call 523-0068
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