The Persistence of Figuration in Contemporary Sculpture


Good afternoon everybody I’m Jock
Reynolds. I think I know all of you out there by now who I can see I can’t see
those of you in the back there with a back lights on. I’m here with my
good friend Bob Taplin who lives in New Haven is also a wonderful sculptor and
many of you probably don’t know that I actually got my MFA in sculpture and
you’re here to be here here a little bit of discussion Emmanuel Neri but about
sculptured in general tonight and I was his TA I’ll tell you more about that but
I thought what we would do is just let each other
introduce ourselves say a little bit of you know how we got our training as
artists and where and since we’re a teaching Museum we might say a few
comments about our teachers who really made a difference for us and that’s part
of why I did this very last show of Neri’s work was in tribute to him and and
in response to an offering of a wonderful gift of his works to the
collection which you can see upstairs and the gallery is open till 8 o’clock
tonight so Bob and I will each show some slides talk a little bit about this
issue of you know sculpture where it is now things he’s interested in things I’m
interested in and we’re gonna do it in response to Manuel’s show so Bob why
don’t you lead off. All right just quickly yeah teachers and
whatnot I’m I’m truly you know I had great high school art teachers but I
didn’t go to art school and I was a Medieval Studies major in Pomona College
there were some great artists out there at the time Jim Terrell, Mori Baden but
I’ve kind of you know cut my own track I was just joking around with Jock I
finally got to go to art school when I got to teach over at Yale with Jessica
Stockholder here for a couple of years so I kind of enjoyed that so yeah been
pretty much outside the sort of realm of the academic art world by and large
early on I was besotted with Marc de Suvero was one of Neri’s big buddies
out there and so I I worked from a sort of abstract world you know toward the
figurative and never related very well to the
minimalist thing which was the dominant current when we were coming up and so
Neri also is interesting that way too as somebody who who came out of abstract
expressionism but did not go for minimalism what a different track yeah
so what I did was I made up a quick little set of slides and just take me
5-10 minutes to run through these and what I wanted to talk about was the
issue of the relationship between process expression and well the
relationship between process and expressions so you know you have a
situation where as with Neri you have this tradition of expressionist
sculpture and Neri obviously came out of the abstract expressionist world
where there’s this idea that the marks of the process of making this thing the
manipulation of the material and the marks that are left on the object are
somehow a direct channel into the artists psychology his state of mind his
you know what he’s thinking who he is at the time and it’s a you know it’s a it’s
a tradition that comes right up through you know van Gogh, Giacometti, Rodin
right up till the present Bill Tucker I guess Jock says you’ve got a piece of
his ability to her is working right this minute in this tradition these are two
on the left couple of massive plaster pieces we’re going to talk a little bit
about technique you know tucker works with struck delight which is a is a
light thick slow slow drying plaster that used to be used for the
underlayment of a plaster wall so these things are done very much the way Neri
works directly on a big wooden burlap armature just glom and that stuff on the
one on the right cast in bronze so we may talk a little bit about that how
that changes everything especially in the expressionist world where your your
relationship with sculpture has all this to do with this sense of tracking the
actual touching the process and the marks and
the thing and suddenly in a bronze of course you’re looking at a print of that
like a footprint in the sand of what Rosalind Krauss called it indexical
image all right so Neri working in plaster there were other people doing it
too. This is Mary Frank do you have a Mary Frank here? We do, we do. Ok this was
probably done in the same era you know same thing direct plaster
wooden armature what interests me is that the
expressionist world is like tied into the Romantic tradition right it’s the
idea as I said that there’s this sort of direct print of the artists psyche
there’s all this involvement with the unfinished the non finito you know the
fact that it’s all about the process the thing that’s that’s happening the not
not the final product Mary Frank was an even more romantic artist than the naree
not only in process but now in content you know much more directly kind of
mythic feeling incredible she’s still with us and she’s amazing alright so the
obvious precedence being Giacometti and Rodin people who Denari
obviously adored and in Giacometti you know I was just upstairs looking at
those things in Giacometti, it’s the sense that the process the expressive
trace of the process almost goes on to the point where there’s nothing left
he’s hacking and removing and chopping at the thing until there’s just a just a
sliver left and you know Giocametti incessantly talked about how you know he
could never arrive and what he wanted to do he was always this was always just an
you know an approximation it was never really any good again so that’s that
romantic thing of the process counts the goal the finished product is of not that
much interest. Rodin of course famously leaving the the marks of the casting
process the the piece mold divisions on the
surface again this is getting a little more complicated now because this is
this is the casting process not Rodins hand . Rodin’s handling of the clay of
course was super expressive and and again seem to be very psychological but
this you start to get this sense of oh these divisions are these sort of
contour scars running across the surface and of course nari picked up on that and
started to think about how to set a contour line on the sculpture by digging
or painting or whatever so fascinating alright so it seems to me it’s
interesting thinking about what what is all this not about neoclassicism right
okay on this land we know this guy mister Canova down in down in in new
york on the right Hildebrand all right so the Neo classics is the opposite of
this in every way it’s all about the goal the finish the contour the the
complete unity the the you know the the thing as a finished complete unity and
and of course Hildebrand German contemporary of Rodin becomes eventually
maybe unfairly associate associated with the Nazis right so this is where this
goes this sense of unity and and idealism coming down through the
Enlightenment and everything and eventually ends up in the hands of the
Nazis so in the in the post-war period there that Nerys coming out of this is
just totally utterly discredited you know you wouldn’t know contemporary
artists in 1952 would touch that with a ten-foot pole right so that’s a big deal
alright so by the time nari comes along he’s not the only guy trying to fight
his way back into the figurative world but there aren’t many of them they’re a
small group Siegel also working in plaster Siegel’s
trying to use the process expressively leaving all the little garmi bits of the
plaster but of course Siegel is mean I was working with molds yeah so there’s
another level of objectification removal and a weird sense of touch right you
know we’re sorry back these guys there’s no touch at all right
there’s nothing left of the artists process these guys there’s touch all
right it’s literal Siegel was literally putting the plaster on that girl to make
the mold so there’s this weird objective touch that’s totally different than
earring although they would have been contemporaries right Siegel in there
they probably must have known each other some yes yeah and he there he came to
Santa Cruz when I was a senior I mean Siegel did yeah and Siegel’s out in New
Jersey Nerys in California you know they’re
sort of poles now Graham Robert Graham of course is down in down in LA also
basically a contemporary right yeah okay so the resurgence of the neoclassical
right back to unity contour finish objectification no touch of the artist
and of course he was assailed repeatedly for that you know people attacked Graham
for that and you have to say I don’t know if people know the big things he
did for the LA Olympic Gate the two big torsos naked towards us they really did
look like fashion sculpture I mean they really did they were massive super buff
athletic torsos anyway so that issue percolated along and then one other
thing this is okay Bellmer on the left and on the right Ridge Butler oh yeah
totally weird okay contemporary of jock and Maddie’s English sculptor
contemporary of chadwick and all those people who were trying to kind of catch
Giacometti in those years after the war and then Butler at the end takes his
bizarre turn into these cast resin war strange figures with the wigs on them
okay Butler’s the first guy uses the term post-modernism he gives a he gives
a lecture in 1962 or something where he starts talking about post-modernism and
then of course Bellmer on the Left all German over here this is touch you know
I think it would narrate some way you have to address the the issue of the
female nude and the touch of the the the processed touch of the sculpture as a
metaphor for literally touching the figure and and of course Bellmer is
making his weird puppets as an anti-fascist gesture he’s hiding from
the Nazis and asserting his weird Arata sysm as as a resistance to the
Nazis Butler you know who knows but anyway the issues of you know sexuality
the female nude touch all these things that are in Airy were we’re percolating
along alright so now I’m going to roar through a quick survey of Robert Kaplan
so what I’m saying about nary that I find poignant going up and looking at
these things again is that in a way he was caught on the horns of this dilemma
on one hand he has this rebellious romantic expressive urge to just you
know make a million nudes and slash and cut and chop and you know and then on
the other hand he has this kind of neoclassical urge you come around the
corner one of those sculptures and you know they just got that perfect contour
heading down the button into the leg and around the
back of the classes sorry that’s neoclassicism you know and that sanded okay my my career has been a similar
conflict between the two impulses but within the context of post-modernism so
these are early for steel figures these are direct um you are looking at the
marks of the artists all over these things with a hammer and they’re in this
sort of surreal expressive world then at some point I kind of pulled away from
that and move to a much more what I’m now calling neo classical objective
situation in which there are no marks left at all and the image itself is
there to completely overwhelm the sense of the artists presence that’s the thing
with nari there’s always artists the presence of the artist all over the
thing yeah and then at some point I started to figure out a way how to maybe
drive the two impulses together put them set them at war with each other take us
on a neoclassical approach to form and surface and set it at war with a kind of
completely ante classical content image and then this sort of disintegration of
the solidity of the thing by putting a light in it so this is a piece of it
Wesley in the five outer planets would you explain it claim this series quickly
well this was a set of five doubled figures that that were set up in the big
gallery at Wesleyan and they were representations of the five outer
planets and mixed with the characteristics of the greco-roman gods
whose name seems the planets come from so Jupiter
Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune and Pluto and they were in a false perspective
heading out through the gallery so Pluto was you know fifty feet away when you
walked in and he was in a reduced scale whereas Jupiter you know was 12 feet
tall boy big guy but you know they’re these big heavy clumsy old gods
so it’s an D classical in that sense okay they’re more recently Punchinello
there’s a set of things I’ve done with this idea of punch who’s the sort of
rokoko figure from commedia dell’arte this is punch makes a public confession
as it was done and pass us there with George Washington looking on and another
sort of gesture figure from another room in another room so again these things
have a completely refined surface it’s all about a neoclassical sense of form
and yet a completely ante classical satirical political genre type of image
and by then you are also using new materials – yeah the yeah at this you
know as I moved into more traditional techniques in order to get these kinds
of surfaces right you’re going from a thing where where you’re either you know
casting in clay I’m digging a mold and clay and then casting in plaster which
was the and fiberglass which is the way the planets were done I mean these are
eventually being enlarged digitally from a smaller cat from a 10 inch beast and
coming back in a you know or cut foam and then resurfacing it so these in a
funny way are direct that whole surface is something that I had to remake in a
gypsum yeah so but it’s you know it’s again all
the marks are sanded down taken away these so this is a mid scale piece of
punched as a magic trick which I have to say looks pretty prescient at this point
in the days of my buttons bigger than your button all right
this image is from years ago but I I feel I nailed the current situation
quite a while back or maybe I invoked it I hope not and
then finally this is a piece from a from a series I did called
everything imagined is real after Dante and these were set of nine diorama type
things that took portions of the first nine candidates of Dante’s Inferno and
used them to create a set of tableaus of well moderns war and displacement so
this is totally the sort of postmodern world that nari had nothing to do with
narrative image politics motion sort of a cinematic sense of form and so these
are things that you know but this time this world is decades from where he was
at oh yeah now when you were younger artists did
keynotes for example have an interest to you at all did who keynotes
keen Holt you know I was out there in California and I remember seeing those
things and yes of course that stuff struck me as oh my god so as I said at
that point I was still besotted with this sort of late abstract expressionist
world of dis over oh yeah Ricky called her yeah yeah um but I remember seeing
those Keane Holtz’s and going why don’t we got here and I only recently saw
Barney’s Beanery which now is in Amsterdam which I had read about in Life
magazine as a probably a high school kid because that was a big deal and I
remember it very it made a huge shit on me at the time what the hell is this all
about the guys are the fishbowl heads and everything yeah yeah yeah yeah but
you go ahead what do you get me see well let me just first say that Bob and I met
here when I first came to Yale he was really kind with a whole bunch of
artists in the community to say come on down we’re gonna have a potluck for you
we didn’t expect to have an artist be than
director of this place will come down and break bread with all of us we had a
great time and ever since then we’ve gotten to know each other and artists
and the community better so it’s it’s fun to be here with you you mentioned
you know great high school teachers we both had the rare experience of going to
Andover in my case Exeter and Bob’s and and I think we’re exposed to some great
art and but great teachers of art it’s teenagers it certainly was the case for
me with a Addison Gallery and then I went back to California I’ve been
encouraged my whole life to make things from the minute I went to nursery school
to having a workbench aside my father so I was building furniture and cages for
chickens and pigeons and you know so the idea of making something was was also
cherished in our family not just using them the mind and the eye but the hand
was a was a valued expression of intelligence so that I was I’ve always
been grateful for that and so when I went to UC Santa Cruz I actually thought
it was gonna be a marine biologist but the second year I was there I took a
sculpture class from Gurdon Woods who’d been the director of the San Francisco
Art Institute from 55 to 65 and that was when you know you had clifford still you
had Diebenkorn you had visits by Rothko you had you had you had oh it’s just
we’ve just talking about his work upstairs
Kent you know well David Park was there the corner was the other key figure and
you know we’ve got the figurative artist that we know so all of those people were
there and they had themselves sort of fought their way through as you say in
every deep engagement with you know Abstract Expressionism what was de
Kooning what these people all about so they were they were wrestling with it
like mad and Park at one point took them took the strong step to just take all of
his Amex paintings and put him in his truck and took him out to the dump
Wow just dumped him literally came back and said I’m going back to the figure
but in going back to the figure he and the rest of those people never gave up
some aspect of the expressionistic way of painting or making paint go onto
things or making sculpture that had an Aries case painted surfaces or the very
kinds of mark making you describe so you’re you just
you know the aspect of the tension and the work you’re absolutely right
so it’s really interesting that you started by showing the work by you also
Mary Frank well Mary Frank’s husband was a guy named Robert Frank and Robert
Frank photographed the couny lived down in the lower Manhattan to all of those
people but he went over to Paris and look who he photographed in his studio
this is Giacometti of course so upstairs we’ve put up because both joel shapiro
manuel nari were very influenced by Giacometti i
don’t know a sculptor who was and i certainly was and you see him in the
studio and and this show of manuals we’ve called Manuel Mary the human
figure and plaster and on paper because those are such primary materials that
all artists have access to you use them in many different ways and they are
frankly completely available and very very cheap back in the day plaster was
five bucks for a 50-pound bag you could find paper anywhere and you could find
wire and scraps of wood anywhere and that’s really what a lot of artists and
students had it there and they’re accessible accessibility at the time so
we we wanted to put up some of how Giacometti worked and to show him in his
studio and this is you know here’s an image you know a wonderful drawing of a
studio and these are by morass the the wonderful photographer we have wonderful
works of hers in the collection and again do you see Giacometti in his
studio and it’s a tiny little kind of a hovel of a place I read recently it was
around 400 square feet it’s actually really small you know 15 by 10 yeah yeah
he had a little he had that little stove on one side and here you see one of his
images you can see paintings just leaning up against the studio wall back
there right and and you can see he’s just fighting his way into these things
with plaster and they’re in in process here and he’s just covering the armature
with plaster and starting to work these things out and here he is again looking
at some of these pieces you can see a whole bunch of paintings they’re just
bob was saying you know he never felt total satisfaction with him he never
felt he could kind of totally fix the image of the person
finished yeah or gives you that feeling he made a decision that it was finished
yeah when he’d say go ahead and CAG and it to
his brother Diego and say cast it yeah and yeah yeah the other thing if you
look at some of these two you’ll see that the trademark heavy bronze that he
then cast at the bottom which made impossible to stand up really came out
of the fact that the brothers also made a lot of furniture and and and a lot of
it was made cast in bronze and what is the hardest thing to make stand-up in
bronze if you’re making furniture a lamp right so these thin figures you know in
a some some way to some degree they’re they’re skinny and these big heavy bases
are what helps keep them standing up so you know this doesn’t go unnoticed by
people when you admire your work you also sort of go well where’s this all
coming from right he also had a thing about feet like a tree spreading its
roots on the ground and then the base becomes this is their well I don’t have
an image of it but one of his most famous sculptures that every sculptor
knows is the city square piece where’s the base is about this thick and you
have these tiny little figures that are in the public square they’re not going
to bump into each other but they’re sharing space and frankly the room
upstairs the way I’ve installed manually Riis full-size formal is an homage to
that piece resting lee that piece of course all the
guys are walking yep and the girl yeah and the guys Mary upstairs so actually
the catalog for manual show literally came in bound today it’s it just came
into the bookstore three hours ago so it’s out there and in there I’ve written
a long essay in tribute to him and how he came up and now he taught now I got
to meet and be his TA and do things with him but what I want to say about him is
you know this was it was very true that a lot of the artists in that time we’re
coming out of either the Korean or world war two they were all coming to
art school if they went at all often on the GI Bill and there he was no
different he he actually came in the Korean did GI Bill and one of the very
first people he actually met before he got involved with making as works in
figurative works with Peter vulgus the great professor at Berkeley who was
working in clay and and Manuel was actually studying he wanted to get into
Berkeley ISM is an engineering major he had had to support his his mother and as
daughter’s sister because the father and brother had died during World War two
she had to drop out of high school and when they were all working in the fields
as early mexican-american immigrants he went through a very tough place to get
to thinking that he actually could go to a place like UC Berkeley that was not an
easily imagined thing for a kid who grew up in Warren in Sanger California so
there was a drive in him from the minute you meet him there’s an energy to the
guy and so working with people like focus very early on I’ll show you this
because we just bought this piece it was one of the very early ceramic loop
pieces he made and you can see his engagement with color and his
willingness to use bold color in an expressionistic way in a ceramic piece
and there were four of these made and they were they were in the famous funk
show at Berkeley in 1967 everyone yeah Neri was these one the two of these
ceramic loops so he had that before he went to the Art Institute in this 55 to
65 period and there of course he met some of these amazing teachers here’s
David parks this is the studio this amazing one of his last great great
paintings we were able to acquire for Yale and of course you know we have
great Diebenkorn in the collection so I’m just showing you a couple and and
but those were the kinds of artists who were on the faculty they weren’t really
that old they were just getting their sea legs
de Kooning it was coming out to Berkeley in 1960 and making meeting them that
Rothko was come out you had Gustin coming out there was actually a
tremendous interchange of artists from the East Coast but not critics nor
healer interactions which a lot of people don’t fully understand about
transactions but right in the midst of that decade in comes the John Brown as
one of the students and she and Manuel she and Manuel met each other right away
there was a whole lot of interest and passion and one another they eventually
got married were married for six years had a child they got divorced but he was
he was she was his first muse and this was one piece we had to buy because I
wanted to get it because it’s a very early one of his plaster heads in which
he also drew on it and and one of the things you know well notice when you go
upstairs is not only the manual work directly directly in plaster but the way
he painted on it or the way he made the kind of marks you described whether they
were marks made with gouging tools or whether they were marks subscribed with
a pencil or with paint he was comfortable going in any direction as a
way to manipulate the surface and the Bob’s right when you go to bronze or you
go to marble a whole lot of that just disappears it’s gone well there but it’s
there as a shadow and then trace as a residual it just doesn’t have the same
immediacy and of course the actual this is probably a pencil pencil yeah you
could erase that you know I mean literally there’s that sense of you know it has that fragility to it yeah so it’s
also still describing the form which is interesting hours later he was more
interested in contradicting them for yeah well if you knew John Brown this is
it’s the her own self-portrait it’s whoops whoops I went the wrong way let’s
see you can see then you go from here to here that’s really how John looked I
knew her not for a hard night of drinking perhaps well I was there I
wasn’t there for any of that but anyway the two of them met and and I’ve been
able to get some food in the catalogue of the photographs I’m I’m up here
better than these in the PowerPoint but here’s a picture of them when they’re
sharing the studio together and and again back then no one had any money
they often rented little places so they were jammed in there together and you
can see she’s got big paintings with for the
stuff going on leaning to the right here and he’s got plaster heads you see
whether these made out of scraps of wood they’re holding them up and they’re just
making work work like mad together and very soon these senior professors say
wow you’re one of us you’re as good as us they just accepted them and embraced
him in the most amazing way Burton Woods who became my mentor at UC
Santa Cruz was the president at that time I was telling Bob there’s a funny
moment where Gurdon when Manuel first enrolled the person running the
sculpture studio mr. wood you have to come with me quick right away and stop
him stop this quick um he said what are you talking about you’ve got to come
stop him and he said calm down he walked down to the sculpture studio man don’t
use the entire scope plaster supply for the whole semester in one week if he
looked at what was there Jesus Christ just keep ordering plaster as much as
you need also don’t ever stop it but what was
also interesting is within three years his GI benefits for update no one cared
about degrees saying well you made the decision not to go to art school at some
point you didn’t have to have an MFA you move sometimes from artist to place and
he said mr. woods my GI benefits are running out I’ve got to leave now and
thank you I’ve had a great teasing no you’re not gonna leave I knew on the
faculty next year so very early on Joan and and Manuel given a real place of
with within their peers and it’s important to understand that all of
these places had younger people sometimes teaching who were only 10 or
12 years their senior so they they often treated you as more as a peer rather
than this 60 year old professor with a twenty year old student and that’s
changed a lot over time you know given factors as things so when so when Manuel
left the San Francisco Art Institute he got a studio over on Connecticut Street
in Potrero Hill District of San Francisco which now has become a
fabulously expensive place to live but you got a place for nothing there and he
started to just fill that place up all the time with plaster sculptures as a
matter of fact the cover image for the catalog shows a
whole bunch of his plaster figures out on the back little porch lit of the
studio and he made work so fast this is just a matter of heads they would just
he would just be making him he do certain amount of him on sticks then
he’d go back and he put one up on the stand and he’d carve on it he right on
it he’d do things to it and and you can see how these you know in some cases
also very much related to Giacometti it’s at some level but he would just
eventually push him out the back door and dump him but no one was buying this
stuff you had to have room to make more stuff so woods used to go see me said he
used to just throw away you know scores of these figures and heads kept
some but it was really as you say almost a are just an adamant rush to keep so
the other thing that was really true at the time was every one of these artists
drew constantly and they were keeping the hands limber all the time with
whatever paper they could get Diebenkorn Bischoff par call them they get often
met together they’d have jazz music someone playing the piano and they would
just draw draw draw scats of drawings here you see the two
figure drawing the other thing there he did that’s similar bothers that in this
case this this drawing is as is collage you do something to a thing you do
something else to it thing you do something else to it the same way he
goes back to the figurative plaster pieces and keeps manipulating or
coloring and then sanding gouging chopping you know you often wonder when
and how he stops which was also an issue with Pollock and others when he when he
stopped always there when you lose abrasion when do you lose a piece or
Wendy when’s the right moment if you talk to Bill Tucker about this right now
he’ll say that’s a key issue when is it done well yeah because you’re the whole
idea is to be in this river in this stream and basically you’re just
stepping out of everything alright I stopped yeah yeah so that’s a real issue
that’s constant in there he’s life I completely agree with you
and and these wonderful heads he’s basically been interested in the full
figure in the head the portrait easily done a beautiful
there’s a there’s a piece upstairs a portrait of marked a super or eerie car
we carved it three times over twelve years you know where do you find mark is
no no I didn’t quite get mark I got to go back and do more with Mark as they
both knew each other and traveled between New York and Berkeley where de
Subaru taught for quite some time so you have these pieces like this the big
change in near his life came when he met maria julia and i happen to be is that
graduate school UC davis at the time and I was manuals ta and he bought this
beautiful you can see his studio was an old church he’d bought in Benicia
California and it was just a fabulous space to work in and he met Marie Julia
and she became his muse and model for 40 years that’s essentially the the all the
images you see or one way or another come out of poses she did directly in
the studio here you can see he’s she’s got a comfortable chair she’s wearing a
robe to stay warm and he’s working directly in plaster probably having in
this case just working from live poses sometimes he would draw many many images
when I was is TA and was mixing up the plaster for a class he would often come
in off these big working Jags and he’d be all you know looking you’ll see some
pictures where he looks old unshaven and this that and the other and then he’d
clean up and he’d have Italian loafers with no socks and linen pants and a
white tank top he’s handsome as hell and come in with a double expresso when a
paintbrush and he’d sit in the back of the class and watching the model Ivey
slepping around rather this help and the students and he just do a little he’d
probably throw thirty sketches on the floor by the end of the class that we’d
sleep him up and throw him away every week it’s a little bit like a
great athlete on stick you get you know you keep pitching you keep memory so
that was that was also an aspect of a work ethic of these artists I think it’s
really important and and yet there’s also the way in which he instructed us
I found out very very clear since that that there’s a reflective time needed
when you make art and so so here’s he’s working one way with Mary Julie in the
studio and here’s another way where she’s posing absolutely live and he’s
starting to work on a plaster piece in the studio and at the same time he might
be doing drawings like this that look almost like I Sumi mush dog so quick and
and that had grown out of a much more classical way of drawing and Mary
interestingly enough it was the first person to give me the magazine’s of the
Japanese goat eye performance group these guys were wired into some stuff on
going the other way the California thing they were looking
looking you know looking West yeah so they yeah they they were all aware of
Japan so that was interesting so then you know all these different ways in
which the Mary Julia would pose were her things you know almost like a crow you
know prowling I mean they had a wild relationship I’m sure was both
passionately hot and heavy at times and other times they were just at each
other’s throats you could there is some times of violence to it that you allude
to right right and I don’t mean that you know I don’t think they ever beat each
other up that’s again an ongoing part of the the whole expressionist tradition is
that it tends to be read either correctly or incorrectly as you know an
evidence of anxiety angst rage you know violence fury I mean there’s always that
I mean I just went saw the Leon Gallup show the same thing you know that IDs
work in those paintings or that meat cleaver and this so there’s this
undercurrent in his case is not an undercurrent it’s absolutely explicit
know that that expressionist rage of the sounds are there and de Kooning’s
women’s you know those paintings were soundly criticized by many people except
for for the with the Duke I always feel there’s a
sense of humor about it yeah the big grinning face and then you know the clam
digger those crazy sculptures yeah you know they’re funny yeah for his Nerys I
don’t think this much sense of humor in what Nerys no it’s not it’s not part of
his it’s not part of his ethos I would agree with that so the other thing what
we didn’t really mention but you know here’s a case in point where you know
once you once you come up with a pose and anyone to start working directly in
plaster you have to create then this is true for lots of art you’ve talked about
it you have to build armatures of different kind to basically start to
support the way you’re gonna apply plaster and plaster when you first start
to work forth it’s nothing more really than it’s like making a pancake batter
you know you make a big tub of stuff you throw the water in if you want to slow
it down I mean speed it up you can put salt in
you can do different things to make it behave slower faster you can tint it you
can you can work it easily when it’s just cast and not fully dry you can re
wet it and add to it but there is a trajectory drew there’s a bell curve
yeah it starts out wet and there’s there’s not a long moment there where
you can really pick a handful of it up and make a stick yeah and so when you
look at those Nerys you can see that there’s that moment when it really is
being applied wet and he can be like the hairs through it yeah exactly and then
you have to do other things to it or you have to remove some of it there’s only
so much you can kind of cover the armature which to get a certain form and
then you have to make other decisions and that’s the deal with the Tucker’s
the struct light is it’s a much longer slower thing either
yeah he’s Gorman that stuff on and hitting that sort of foaming fecal
surface that’s really very different than what yeah so I used to watch him
work this way you know where he’d start just with the wet stuff you know and
it’s big mess it’s all over his hands and he’s just getting it on there and
getting the basic form done so some of the some of his works have that feeling
you know he’s got a pose he gets it finally up to a certain point gets and
then you know if he doesn’t like it all this
the other thing you can do at this stage is you can just snap an arm off you know
change the pose if you don’t like you know it feels full scale change it up to
a point I think that’s one of the interesting things about nari that I
mean I don’t know if you’re going to talk about this boy when he started out
he was making those armatures out of wood yeah and so they pretty much stand
up because he you know and then he’s getting a little bit of but then later
he started making the armatures out of metal and that’s when they could crawl
you know where he could bend that thing around and she could crawl like or you
could those know what those are basically wire okay why in other words
something tensile you couldn’t do that with wood yeah so I saw him do some you
know sometimes he could alter something rather severely but mostly altered it by
adding more now doing chopping things off sanding it doing adding paint and
sort of staying with it for a time in which you finally had to stood decide
when do you stop when you stop was the big question with this pieces but
there’s also I mean another compelling thing about these is that there is a
sort of you know there’s a sense with Expressionism of the time of the making
again you know when you look at those neoclassical things like time has been
erased the idea is that they’re eternal where is this there’s a speed to it
which you got to witness and you still see it you feel it in the object is that
there’s a rapidity and there’s a record of the speed even if it’s somewhat
illusionary yeah yeah the other thing sometimes the poses would come out of
again something in the studio or some you know another object would come into
play you know you could you’d make a figure and you’d make it in response to
a seated you know situation and put it on the chair or have it crawl actually
on the floor and all the time he’s making wonderful figurative works on
paper now one of the things that really interested me at when I was a student is
that Davis and this was just as I was just deciding you know whether he wanted
me to be his TA as he came the gallery one time when he laid down
some plywood sheets I think there were about four sheets and he did this in the
little student-faculty gallery that was right off where we worked and he said
I’m just gonna work on a few figures a couple figures for a few days and he
came in there and he just started to build them up from you know from the
building the armature first started to lay on the plaster and he’d sit in a
chair and sometimes just look at him for a while so we’d come in at all what’s
happening with him so this was also really interesting to see someone
stopping and having this moment of contemplation what have I done what
needs to be done next because he wasn’t just someone who worked fervently
without stop to get to these things there is a lot of reflective time and I
think that’s a really interesting thing for students to learn too that you as
much as you’re you’re using your hands to make things you do spend time
considering what the next moves are going to be or whether it’s going in the
right direction or what needs to be done next so also I mean another thing about
an Aries work is that most of it is life-size that’s right so he’s sitting
in there surrounded by his life-size figures yeah so there’s this one-on-one
relationship and so you know one of the key things in the successful Nerys
to me is that there’s both the external observe sense of the figure and the
internal sense of you know what you might called the equipoise the the
balance the inside what it feels like to be standing inside that figure and of
course by worrying with the same model for decades he got way in there with her
he had an actual sense maybe not quite what it felt like to be her but what it
felt like for her to stand that way and so he’s sitting in there projecting some
of his sense of body occupying space into these
plaster things he’s made and I think the sense of you know how much can you
possess someone exactly was a part of the tension of the relationship love and
how much of that pushback dominate and how much is and there is not there’s not
much sense in Airy it’s one of the things I find poignant is there’s this
lingering moment of where you feel the image does start to dominate the artist
and then the artistry sorts the dominance on the image there’s that
there is a battle going a psychological battle going on in there and it’s I
don’t know I think it’s one of the poignant things about the sculptor well
the other thing is when he draws you know that is his sense of the sensuality
of his hand and where he’s seeking that as you see sometimes you see it in parts
of the sculpture sometimes you see it fully in drawings like this or you see
it in tension mm-hmm you know and so different than that sort of you know
slightly creepy ossified sense from the seagulls you know that sort of death
thing of the seagull is always it’s always kind of a corpse because it’s a
cast from a real person who’s not there anymore
whereas Nerys is working toward some sort of real presence well don’t forget
near the seagull worked with the plaster he worked with was orthopedic plaster
was God’s plaster often saturated with dry postures like when you break your
leg or something that’s what the mold so so you know you’d get covered with
Vaseline or whatever you get some drawers in your nose and mouth and I
watched I got to know him because he came to Santa Cruz my senior year
wonderful man on whose farm worth of happenings were first done yes yes he
came to Santa Cruz my senior year so I was I was exposed to this wild tension
between the performative well exam and classical studio work in a big big way
is in my youth and don’t forget that when there he’s
doing this I’m gonna show you how I make it that’s exactly what Peter Volquez
used to do he would love to get in front of students show him how to throw a big
stack all right and and get them totally hooked by the mastery of how he could
work this material there he had some of the same that’s that coming out of yeah
out of that Expressionism you know Pollak you know I don’t paint nature I
am nature he’s like that performative idea I mean it’s it got dismissed but
the idea of action painting had there was some reality to it it was a
performance in time yeah so after I went through Davis and studied this guy had a
fantastic experience getting to go his studio and all I moved to San Francisco
became a young professor about the last working casket factory South of Market
Street and built a couple lofts upstairs and we opened a big space called ad
Langton Street which became one of the great alternative art spaces and all of
us who were artists involved with it at some point would do some kind of a show
or wanted to introduce artists of our own peer group or teachers worked at the
place so I asked Manuel to come in 1976 with Mary Julia and I said we’ve got a
week for you here we’ll have an opening next weekend could you do a figure ad a
full-figured a see if you could do a full figure today he said Wow yeah he
said well yeah I’d like to try that and so we got in a ton of plaster I said
just bring all your stuff in see what you can make and at the end I don’t want
you to clean any of it up and leave all the tools just walk out at the end the
same way it would be like when I was in the studio with you because there was
something about seeing you know all the chips and all the stuff you know that
was really when it got all cleaned up and put up on these big bases in the
regular commercial galleries I never long I’ve seen it the same way oh yeah
this is that this is that opportunity that the expressionist sort of opens up
to identify for the viewer to identify with the artist yeah that’s part of what
it’s all about it’s like oh I can feel how he made that mark I could do that
yeah so here’s an area at 80 Langdon Street you can see Mary Julius she’s got
her clothes on there but he’s been started to work on a number of figures
and here’s another image of at this point the manuals
standing back yet again sort of taking the time to look at how things are going
I think this was on the fifth day I think they’re out there five figures in
there yeah off to the side and one of those is upstairs actually he not only
did 70 state one extra day did eight and so we postponed their opening one day
and and in in the end people loved it and there was something about that show
that he always felt very grateful for it helped him realize that his work could
be seen in a in San Francisco in the gallery context in a different way than
he was getting in the commercial galleries so you know we stayed in touch
but I was frankly quite uh surprised when he and his trust called up and said
listen you were his favorite student he wants you to have whatever you want for
you I said well Jesus are you serious and I didn’t said yes I went out there
and all this stuff with exception of two pieces as a gift from his is there is
there any equivalent collection of Nerys early work anywhere else no and and and
you know I only I took I think two bronzes everything is either plaster
works on paper that’s and I really honestly maintain and I think all the
artists I know no man you’ll think his best work is in plaster now dealers
don’t like it collectors don’t like it they want the bronze they want the
marble but whether you like his work or not
I absolutely maintain the plaster work and the drawings are the best okay and
I’ve been a museum – right they’ve taken some of these other works I said I
wouldn’t even touch him mhm I just don’t think they’re anywhere nearly successful
so that’s a funny thing isn’t it it feels so strongly about an artist but
not always feel that they hit it in the other medium they sometimes do but not
not with the regularity the whole poignancy of the thing is so much more
present in the plaster yeah you know it’s like I slept there in that gallery
just you know trying to really relax and just sit there with those life-size
figures and sort of take the whole thing in for a while you know it’s like to me
but called the mind mind the whole sort of business of the
of the you know the brick D and alienation effect you know there you
start to get absorbed in the presence of the figure the image itself starts to
kind of come alive and then all that slashing and cutting and paint and
everything you know they’re life-sized figures you’re starting to identify with
the figure and then he breaks it all that manipulation breaks and said no no
no this is just a hunk of blaster it’s a piece of material you know and that’s
that sort of Brechtian thing of letting the identification of the viewer grow
and then stopping it breaking it and then setting it in motion again and and
these things are full of that where you start to kind of I’m starting to really
believe it and then he says no you can’t do that this is a sculpture and so
that’s it to me it’s a you know it’s that poignant modernist you think if I’m
not going to I’m not gonna abandon materiality and just go off into the
mists of image identification and and and all of that he hung in there that
way and that starts to break up a little bit
with particularly with the marbles yeah where you start to even though they’re
very object light and he would you know finish a marble and then take a can of
you know red enamel paint just the big brush mark across the marble trying to
you know break up that preciousness that sense of the marble as a you know as a
complete object they could sort of as you say that you could own in a
completely different way than the artist trying to own the image Maria Julia it’s
a different thing you know one thing I want to say is now director of a museum
for you know 20 years is that I never had to you know really look really
seriously a Greek and Roman art to approve acquisitions before I took this
job and all of a sudden I come from you know
contemporary scene a gallery of American art and Here I am with a really good
rather notable Department of ancient art here and you know I started looking at
these things and there really is some of these figures were meant to be very
idealized but you know we’re used to an aesthetic where their noses have been
knocked off their arms are broken the legs are gouged they’ve been hit by
plows when they were dug up an Italian fields there I mean they’ve been nicked
in another kind of way by time and circumstance in history and yet we’re
used to thinking they’re beautiful and then their time tonight well so I’m used
to this aesthetic but some of them the way the breaks happen in what happened
aren’t so nice and I said well you know is that really a piece you want or what
is it about that aesthetic that we’re used to now because something’s happened
to it i we were talking earlier I said how are we gonna feel about a Donald
judge box for six hundred years from now if it’s been kicked in with your feet on
two sides and got big dents in it you know how does art last and change over
time is something that yeah yeah the fragment and the fragmentation of course
was like a huge opening contemporary art obviously that relates to modern sense
of anxiety and yet at the same time you know these these these things and in
Greece and Rome where Africa often painted when they were oh you bet they
were they were colorful so Manuel’s going over and want him to expose
himself to everything in in Italy and Greece the way he did you know every
year summary go to Carrara the the quarry man thought he was insane to be
painting his pieces you know yeah and yet he looked at that and and he was
grappling with you know can that be done again yeah and of course you know when
you’re trying classical classical is a huge black box yeah
which includes an enormous broad number of things I mean the cliches of
classical art the venus de milo on this kind thing most of those are actually
Hellenistic those are late you know and and so yeah and of
course the actual corpus of classical art
includes all sorts of things that that something like Mary might or might not
you know a lot of a lot of almost all classical statuary is narrative in one
way or other you always know who it is it’s not just an abstract figure and he
does he does quote some of those classical poses up there you’ll see that
know if you you know if you for sure you weave yammered enough you know how
about any of you have any questions you know we’ve got a little bit of time if
you want to pose a question or tell us we’re out of our minds or but I don’t
want I didn’t want to show I want you to go upstairs if you haven’t seen the show
since we’re open to 8:00 I didn’t want to show images of the exhibition I
really want you to experience that in person and the book is in and it does
have we one reason we waited for the book to come out as we wanted to shoot
the installation well so people don’t get here get to see his work I think
installed in a way he would really have loved and I showed him the catalog was
out in California and he did love the way the show is installed it’s great
anything any normally doesn’t get that kind of treatment and you know a bad a
bad frame can kill a painting and a bad installation of sculpture jammed up
against the wall can really ruin it now that we know those things spaced out
that way and and that was something I think I learned from watching him and my
own teachers said you know sculpture something you want to be able to walk
around you want me to look at it from all sides it needs to be ideally to
satisfy you you’d like it to be in us it’s about relief you know they want it
to be he was as was they got he was really
interested in the back yeah it’s not just their some of them seem very
frontal but so anybody now we’re gonna start the yammering issue yeah here’s a
mic you gotta hold it up closer you want
they want but it’s not on testing testing area closer pretend your
Mick Jagger right up there but Allen laughed and said that every artist in
the Bay Area had an area in their back yard so he was extremely prolific right
unbelievably so he gave things away were all the time he destroyed a lot of his
work that’s a problem sculptures sculptors where do you store all the
stuff you wanna go out to his studio look at his problem I I threw away a lot
of my stuff before I moved east I just took it to the dump I couldn’t afford
storage anymore oh yeah these you know these pieces itself for you know 150 to
250 thousand a pop now these plaster pieces no he’s 88 years old and he’s a
very frail health and that’s why I wanted to do this while he was still
alive Charles Coles was his dealer down in New
York all through the 80s and 90s and they were they were say it was mostly
the bronze and the marble yeah yeah that I think that’s what during his sort of
working life was probably his real I mean you’re right and the problem is the
plasters weren’t known on the East Coast you know so I don’t think his best work
ever made it to the East Coast and the way it was sort of a rumor to those of
us who were interested but you never got to see him and a lot of people weren’t
interested you know it was definitely a Bay Area thing and New York was pretty
resistant anyone else up there it’s all perfectly clear okay well
thanks for coming go up and take a look at the show okay thanks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *