The human form has been celebrated since individuals first began to draw. Melissa Morgan Fine Art—in the first offering of the new season—is now revisiting this timeless subject with a 21st-century perspective.
Form and Figure explores the human body in various mediums and levels of abstraction. While some artists explore psychology, others idealize the human form. Melissa Morgan Fine Arts is featuring sculptors including Vancouver, British Columbia-based David Robinson, and Wanxin Zhang, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Robinson works primarily in bronze and mixed media, and he’s undeniably the star of the show. The gallery is showing 10 of his works, including one in the outdoor sculpture garden.
Robinson’s pieces depicting the human figure in an idealized form are most powerful. Robinson articulates—especially with his smaller figures—external musculature and bone structure masterfully. His clear and clean attention to detail shows his understanding of the human body, and how it works.
With his 65-inch tall bronze “Forced Perspective,” Robinson creates the appearance of movement, perspective and, perhaps, loneliness, through only two elements: the human figure, and a ladder. The size of Robinson’s ladder is not uniform: The rungs gradually decrease in size going down the sculpture toward the bottom. Robinson magnifies the sense of perspective by positioning the top rungs much farther away from the wall than the ladder’s bottom rungs. Whether the lone man—situated about one-third down from the top—is climbing up or down is irrelevant. What is clear is that he is both alone and moving.
“Terra,” “Luna” and “Sola”—Robinson’s three most complex sculptures in this show—are all fabricated from bronze, concrete, aluminum and mirror. With “Terra,” a comparatively small Atlas balances a much-larger bronze Earth on his shoulders. Atlas stands precariously upon a hollow, thin and highly raked aluminum geometric form; he and the globe are surrounded by a larger convex disk, also in bronze, which—in conjunction with the orb and aluminum—further dwarf the central figure. Robinson enhances the sculpture’s complexity by strategically positioning a large mirror toward the back. Atlas appears alone, despite his being seen in triplicate.
Wanxin Zhang’s fired-clay sculptures more than merely populate the room; they live in their space. Born in China, Zhang created these contemporary figures to pay homage to the Terracotta Army. The army, created in the third century B.C., was unearthed by farmers in China’s Shaanxi province in 1974.
As with the Terracotta Army figures, each Zhang sculpture is constructed in pieces, put together after firing. Zhang seems to adopt the army’s armor, sometimes with a modern twist; the faces in both the army and Zhang’s works appear emotionless.
However, there are clear differences. Craftsmen made each Terracotta Army face unique, while Zhang seems to use the same model for several pieces. Also, Zhang’s pieces are shorter than the emperor’s life-sized army. While the sculptor creates a unique glaze for each piece, the Terracotta figures were apparently painted in bright pigments (red, green, blue, lilac) before being finished with a coat of lacquer.
Zhang’s works are most successful when his figures are not free-standing. Specifically, “Local Dr.” emerges from an amorphous base; “Jesusir” seems to be walking out of a larger backdrop. The intense look and bent knees of “Local Dr.” create a somber tone and enhance the sense of depth, respectively.
Two paintings in Form and Figure by Catherine Woskow (“Profile,” “Orange Oxide”) deserve notice. Woskow is clearly grounded in the figurative tradition, and her acrylic-and-graphite images produce visceral responses.
In Woskow’s oversized portraits, torsos and extremities are non-existent. Her impasto, not overly dense, makes her vigorous brushwork visible, creating a sense of depth and movement. Her facial features, too, are almost non-existent; they are, at best, blurred. (In some ways, they seem reminiscent of faces created in paintings by Richard Diebenkorn, some of which are currently on display at the Palm Springs Museum of Art.)
The show also includes a tapestry by Chuck Close. In Close’s trademark style, a large face stares out, emotionless. However, this large tapestry seems far more subtle than other Close works. Restrained textures, especially on the black background, produce tremendous shading. Not only do these textures make the face larger; they seem to offer greater insights into the man’s internal world.
Other artists in the show include William Catling, Markus Schaller, Deborah Oropallo, Devorah Sperber, Marianne Kolb, DJ Hall and Eric Zener.
Form and Figure will be on display through late January at Melissa Morgan Fine Art, 73040 El Paseo, in Palm Desert. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday; and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday. For more information, call 760-341-1056, or visit www.melissamorganfineart.com.