A Sculptor's Notion of Painting?

IN "Shades of Rust," British sculptor Maria Marshall, brings together a painted canvas, a number of steel elements, and a gray-white marble slab.

Each of these contrasting elements plays its role. The rust-colored canvas acts as a flat, rectangular background, suspended on the wall. The various steel forms in bold relief project from the canvas, and the marble slab is horizontal, like a base.

But the roles these different parts plays are visual rather than structural. The assumptions we might make about their interrelated functions, knowing the weight of steel and stone, are, in fact, likely to be wrong. The marble slab, looking like a shelf or base, is actually neither. It doesn't stand on the floor and support, as it seems to, the concave and convex steel forms and the canvas above it. It must be they, in fact, that support it. They stop it from falling.

The steel elements, in turn, appear to be held up by the canvas. But a canvas is little more than its name implies: a piece of strong cloth stretched over a simple wooden frame. Such a light structure could not of itself support weighty steel and a slab of marble.

It is clear that the wall is used to hold up the whole work, but there must be a hidden structure behind the canvas which makes everything strong enough to hold to the wall.

This wall sculpture was a part of a London exhibition (at the Odette Gilbert Gallery) named after the child's game: "Scissor, Paper, Stone." While Marshall says her sculptures were not prompted by the exhibition's title, they did explore the idea of disparate materials placed in conjunction.

In another sculpture, she has a large number of newspaper sheets, as well as stone and steel forms. These substances accentuate each others' characters by contrast; and conceptually they hint at varying degrees of mass, texture, meaning, manufacture, utility, and durability. Perhaps there is even a quiet irony in the fact that Marshall deliberately choses certain named newspapers, in spite of the fact that they cannot be read by the viewer. The hidden aspects of a work of art, she seems to be saying, rem ain in the memory and concept of the artist. The artist cannot divulge everything; and the artist can also choose what not to divulge. The warmth and mystery of a work can be the effect of what the artist has included factually and conceptually but held back visually.

In "Shades of Rust" the eye is invited to concentrate on "abstract" traits like rich color and texture; sharp and rough-cut edges; a rhythm of curve, of twist and turn, describing concave and convex; a play of light and shadow. The steel members clearly have a history. They were used for something else before being co-opted for their art roles. The vessel and the heavy pipe leading to it, suggests liquid conducted to a container. Steel, it reminds the viewer, has been in a molten state before being forme d. Liquid, in the form of a staining paint, was a part of the artist's process when making this work; the painted canvas, too, carries associations whose meaning is altered by its new relationship to other parts of the work. It is not allowed to be an image in its own right. It isn't a painting except in the most raw-material sense. It is relegated to a humble status, that of backdrop. It gives visual support. In front of it, the more dramatic action of the sculpture takes place. A sculptor's notion of pain ting, perhaps?

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