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Art Show Features Performer Chopping Wood

PARK SLOPE — A Brooklyn artist has traded in his paints, canvas and brushes for a new set of creative tools — a saw, an ax and a log.

Artist David D'Ostilio's latest work is "The Chopping Block," a performance art installation at Open Source Gallery in the South Slope. Every Saturday through March 27 D'Ostilio will don a traditional lumberjack outfit, saw through a nearly 2-foot wide log, then hack it into firewood with an ax.

The show's recent opening drew a crowd of art lovers who sipped wine and beer and chatted amongst themselves while D'Ostilio toiled Paul Bunyan-style over a 1,200-pound log to produce one bundle of firewood. 

"It was a great experience with all these people standing around and drinking wine and watching him work," said gallery director Monika Wuhrer. "The action itself is so beautiful. I think people love watching other people work."

Running a toothed metal blade through a former tree may be beautiful, but it's also grueling labor. It took D'Ostilio about half an hour to cleave the 22-inch diameter log, and the job left him with a dime-sized blister on his right hand.

D'Ostilio's lumberjack uniform includes the standard red and black checked flannel shirt, jeans and work boots — but no protective gloves.

D'Ostilio, whose day job is managing the warehouse at the art auction house Phillips de Pury, said "The Chopping Block" reminds city dwellers with desk jobs about the role of physical work.

"We're on the computer all the time... What is considered work is changing," D'Ostilio said. "Physical work is part of all people's history and there's something peaceful, beautiful and relaxing about it."

The show is also partly an homage to his grandfather Dominick D'Ostilio, a North Carolina carpenter and art teacher who gave him an appreciation for both paint brushes and woodworking tools. D'Ostilio uses his grandfather's saw in the piece, and the ax was handmade by a friend.

The installation is also a statement about masculinity, D'Ostilio said. He's been thinking  about shifting gender roles as he's encountered more and more male artists who are stay-at-home dads while their female partners work to support the family.

D'Ostilio's fiancée is studying to be a midwife and will likely be the breadwinner in their family, he said.

Unlike painting or drawing alone in a studio, "The Chopping Block" gives D'Ostilio the chance to express his creative vision in front of a live audience.

During the opening, D'Ostilio could hear people in the crowd talking to each other as he worked, but their focus snapped back to him as his blade got closer and closer to slicing through the log, which rests hip level on a plywood stand.

"As I got down toward the end of the cut they all started paying attention and starting cheering because they wanted to see it fall," D'Ostilio said. "That gave me a burst of energy when I was tired, to hear them get excited."

"The Chopping Block" will be on view at Open Source Gallery, 306 17th St., through March 27. Check the website for gallery hours and performance times.