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Bill & Susan Explore Color and Shape
and Line and Space and ...
Dense shapes and vivid colors — details of Susan Lecky painting (Beyond, Before
and the Memory of Now) and Bill Verhelst sculpture (Enigmatic Blues,
above), together in Color, An Exploration at the Bath House March 9-28, 2006
very time I mentioned the similarities I'd noticed in husband Bill Verhelst's sculptures and wife Susan Lecky's paintings at their Bath House show last spring, I was instantly and vociferously voted off the island. Artists do not want to acknowledge cross pollination of concepts between these two, long considered nearly diametrically opposed, bodies of work.
Which is why this story has taken more than three months. Several times I thought I could be imagining them, but after several serious rethinks, I don't believe so.
Originally, I planned to drop by the Bath House and take a few snapshots of their show to put on the cover or Calendar page. Because they are long-time DARts members, and I want to promote them and their work. But when I got into the gallery, I realized I had only my one, long telephoto lens, not the full wide-to-tele zoom of my older digicam, although I later came back with that camera for the full views here.
That day, I did what I could with what I had, backing into the far corners to get distant enough to include significant portions of both artists' work, rendering them intimately juxtaposed.
Looking at those images, it hit me how similar their work is, albeit in dramatically different form, format and presentation. The forced perspective of a telephoto lens' small angle of view and enlargement both magnified and contrasted the differences and similarities of the couple's work.
It's difficult to imagine more divergent art from two people who have been married for 22 years. Yet when we come in close to Susan's paintings and Bill's sculptures and look carefully at their shapes and spaces, visual similarities materialize.
Both incorporate organic and mechanical, natural and unnatural shapes, real and unrealistic colors, and an interweave of both encompassing and exclusive elements. Perhaps most obvious is their use of ground — although you could hardly count it as negative space.
His change with every step or lean. Hers are dotted or scribbled with tiny ornate textures. Yet they pull together the disparate elements of their distinctive figures. Comparative emptinesses unify everything, as it does in the hands of skilled and practiced practitioners.
Bill's earlier 3-D work is made of traditional materials, and his later pieces seem like a progression to metals, improbably cast, combined with pointed, planed and sometimes splintered wood.
If you touch the work, like I just have to, you discover that Bill's materials are more common and lightweight. Those heavy-looking black iron and exposed red copper parts are actually scrap plastic, thin-walled, melted, bent and torn, not heavy metal, at all.
These shapes, colors and application of abstracted elements continue what Bill has been working with for decades. Wooden fuselages with pieces split, textures obvious and organic, comprise the hallmarks of his life's work — spires stalactiting upward.
But the flat, painted-on combinations of curved and rounded and angular abstractions applied to those planes are at least reminiscent of the mix of contrasting and complimentary color textures we find in Susan's paintings.
It's difficult to discern where Bill's amalgam of smaller shapes building into spires of faceted textural complexity end, and the shape and faceted textural complexity of her work begins. I'm thinking it's more of a continuing spectrum, hardly new to this show.
Another, arguable similarity is their use of what I see as blood vessels running through his sculptures and the light and dark outlined veins in her paintings. These comprise some of the more obvious visual echoes in each other's work.
Susan blends rounded organic and sharp, staccato mechanical shapes using color and line to separate and combine the disparate elements. Bill organically blends disparate materials into intricate mechanics of color and line.
They are making not entirely dissimilar art with line and color and shape, but different materials and form. Her presentation is as formal as a single frameless proscenium, revealing nearly symmetrical design, usually sectioned into six smaller canvases hung closely together. His work is formal and directly presented as sculpture, with often informal elements. Plunk it on a riser and get the light right.
His have more direct, physical texture, and actual third dimension. It's just possible that her two-dimensional work has more colors. Both incorporate geometric line and shape, and both Mr and Mrs' work are full of switch-back conceits that make us question and rethink what we are looking at, and how — and why — these artists made these objects before us.
Here I'm thinking of Susan's work as simultaneously the stained glass windows and the complex, rectilinear architecture of a formal flower garden. Bill's multi dimensional mix of rounded, organ shaped and colored solids with long, fierce spears, are the Gaudi-esque steeples of that sanctorum.
I figure if two artists live together long enough, little bits of each other's visual ideas inevitably migrate into the other's oeuvre, no matter how distinct their work appears.
Bill's startling little boxes of nearly monochromatic organisms in the hallway outside the Bath House' main gallery were simple treasures, not at all the sorts of rendering most sculptors would consider, tending more toward the repulsive and scary than the lovely and lookable. But I couldn't take my eyes off them.
The materials in those boxes are closer to floral reality than the floriated depictions folded into Susan's complex, flattened origami — perhaps more like slimy swamp growth than fields of flowers. Organic verses linear.
I like saying that Bill wrote the book on sculptural materials, and he did (Sculpture: Tools, Materials and Techniques, Prentice-Hall, first edition, 1973; second edition, 1988; ISBN 0137967497), and he is still exploring and keeps finding new and intriguing forms.
Their individual studio workspaces are as different as their art at first appears. Hers is neat and precise, bright, serene and spacious; his isn't. It's long, narrow and dark, wood lined with bins of disparate materials, textures and shapes.
I imagine him spending long hours in his by turns massively messy and newly neatened, yet always eminently practical studio-workshop, fitting this or that object together and thinking about their real and philosophical potential.
I picture her painstakingly patterning the micro and macro unities of her visually intermeshed panels forming her large designs.
ormally, I'm not a fan of Artists' Statements, a vastly overrated form that generally interferes with rather than enhances our enjoyment of art. It may be as instructive to contrast and compare their statements as their work. Besides, it gives them a voice in this story about their work.
I liked hers better when I mistakenly thought it was just that first sentence/paragraph. My mind glazes over by the second of six intellectualized and intricately detailed paragraphs. His explains stuff I hadn't fathomed. Both give their nods to nature.
See more work by Bill Verhelst and Susan Lecky on their respective DallasArtsRevue membership pages, from which their statements were taken. Or Yagoogle one or both artists.
I am intrigued with the random and fixed patterning found in nature and how the intrusion of human-made forms interacts with these patterns.
I have personalized the natural forms in these paintings so that they hint at something real, but are not. Therefore the viewers, with their own background of visual experiences, will be sparked to associate memories and feelings with these shapes that are meaningful to them.
The geometric divisions become architectonic forces that push back and then forward on or amongst the patterned surface of the canvas. Thus a delicate interrelationship is established between the structured and organic elements which I hope will cause a dialogue between myself and the viewers.
I present, through form and color, my feeling about man and nature, and the viewers are stimulated to bring, due to their own sensibilities, additional interpretations to these relationships.
I first investigated these ideas on a single panel format and expanded this search using triptych and six panel formats. The relationships between the forms are explored in the central panel and the two side or top and bottom panels; the center being micro; the sides or tops and bottoms being enlargements of the central forms; becoming macro.
These paintings are the result of this continuing investigation; everything is here, one can only see so much, what do we see, what do we feel?
My career as a sculptor might best be characterized as a continuous search for non-objective personal imagery that reaches beyond that which is verbal and knowable. To somehow touch on an archetypal silent language that belongs and exists within the depths of our feelings. It might best be described as reaching that special moment and feeling we might well experience with the sunrise and smell of that first spring morning, the sound of a great symphony or hidden meaning in exceptional poetry.
The forms I use are derived from that which we are capable of conceiving in our minds and the feelings we find and experience in the magnificence of nature. Since the early spires in my sculpture, my visual vocabulary has slowly grown more complex. Subtle changes occur as I continue to grow in thoughts and feelings. This is usually the result of periods of experimentation with smaller works in my studio. However, the concepts are usually continued and find ultimate resolution in large-scale temporary or permanent works.
[Special thanks to Susan for helping me through the arduous task of identifying all the pieces by both artists. I'd be amazed if we got them all right, and if we didn't, I'll correct them soon as this story is finally published and Susan sees what I've done.
It's difficult enough to write about artists I've never met. But these two are dear friends, whose work I still find amazing. - JRCompton]
See also our visit with Bill and Susan and Marty and Richard.
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