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A Collage of Steel Elements

By Christopher Andreae / October 5, 1992

BRIAN WALL has been making abstract sculpture in welded steel since 1956. One of the most inventive artists to use this medium, he explores within the airy but still self-contained field of each work the potentials of balance and imbalance, of movement and stillness, of touching and separating.

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He makes the rods, blocks, and ribbons of steel trace the dynamics of direction and return, of over and under, of across and between, of divergence and convergence. Above all, he investigates the tension between implied completeness and fragmentary statement. Apparently not prone to theory or verbalization, he does talk of simplicity in a positive way; but perhaps absence of the unnecessary and therefore presence of only what is truly needed comes closer to an accurate description of his sculpture. After

all, his works are not really very simple. The more they are investigated, within their own abstract terms, the more complex they seem.

His sculptures are constructions for no purpose other than their own vital existence, satisfying the artist's sense of each work as it develops and then subsequently allowing shared experience with the viewer.

Until recently, Wall almost always painted his sculptures with an even, matte coat of paint, generally black. Sometimes he has used white; at least once yellow. But now, he is using colors that are not only strangely intense, but in some cases, like "Straw," contain interesting variations of hue and texture that are unlike his previous works. The paint is always subservient to the strong silhouette of the sculpture it colors, but it certainly adds a sensuous and even emotional element to the work.

Wall's sculpture has developed with steady - even perhaps slow - deliberation. I have the feeling that he relinquishes methods he has found serviceable only after long cogitation, and that the same applies to the introduction of any new characteristics. A kind of calm certainty presides over his art, probably because the simple conceptual basis of it has remained unchallenged, by himself at least, over the decades.

His approach comes out of European Constructivism and Neo-Plasticism. His earliest sculpture was clearly inspired by architecture, and by the strict horizontals and verticals of such artists as Georges Vantongerloo and Piet Mondrian.

Their extreme concentration on such singular elements, to the exclusion of the descriptive, referential, or symbolic - not to mention prohibition of curves or diagonals - acted on many later artists as a kind of clarifying stream, washing out irrelevant concerns and distractions, allowing painters and sculptors new freedoms to make painting or sculpture serve only its own inherent ends, to allow form, line, direction, energy to be in and of themselves.

In this way, the visual language of art might be used as its essential message or expression. In sculpture, this could mean that the materials out of which a piece was constructed might be the equivalents of a painter's brushmarks, areas of color, lines, and surfaces. But the traditional sculptural materials of cast bronze or carved stone, for instance, bore connotations of depiction that had become extremely hard to escape. Thus the attraction to materials such as fiberglass or welded steel.