Driven to abstraction
Life Lines: New Works by Maxwell Bennett, Enzo Marra, and Karl Skaret
On a recent episode of the National Geographic channel’s TV series Brain Games, host Jason Silva presented a segment in which diodes that track movement were affixed to specific areas of dancers’ bodies: their hands, knees, shoulders, and other extremities. In the dark, all that could be seen were the lit-up diodes; the dancers’ physical bodies were invisible. The diodes and the movements provided a minimal amount of information, but the human brain, conditioned over the course of our evolutionary history, could fill in the missing information. Not only can the mind track the movements as human figures in space, but sometimes it could even detect the activities of the dancers, based solely on the movements of the lit-up dots. The same process that allows for the human brain to complete a picture based on a minimal amount of visual cues allows one to read Santa Fe-based sculptor Maxwell Bennett’s figurative works as bodies, rather than as a series of loosely connected metal shapes. To give an example, Heart, made of forged steel and rough-hewn alabaster, has a hollowed-out section in the shape of a thigh and upper calf, ending just below the knee. A torso, too, is only partially rendered, although Bennett started from a whole figure modeled in clay. He took sections away to create a miminalist sculpture that still reads as a complete figure. “The human figure in art is something that is easily recognizable,” he told
Pasatiempo. “I think people’s eyes and their minds, they go to it. If it was hard to see, I’d have to do more of the outline, more of the figure. This way, it’s suggestive and subtle.” Bennett is one of three artists represented in the exhibition Life Lines, on view at Ellsworth Gallery. The artists — Bennett and painters Enzo Marra and Karl Skaret — deal with the line conceptually and compositionally within their work. For Bennett, the line is a trace element, suggestive rather than explicit, that is imposed by the mind upon the forms. The alabaster appears as heart-like shapes in the chest cavities of the figures. “I wanted to incorporate something besides just the metal when I was working on these,” Bennett said. “I had the stone and a few chunks had fallen off inside the studio and they looked like organ-type things. I took those pieces and worked them just little bit. Leaving that raw stone has a nice effect.” The exhibition marks a return to studio practice for Bennett, who has spent the past few years primarily working as a blacksmith. The heart is the focal point of Bennett’s sculptures. The dynamic bodies burst forth, as though they are exploding outward from the organs at their centers. There are no faces and no heads, making each piece non-specific. He deals with the body rather than with personalities. Each figure could be the same figure in a different pose. “I feel like giving them faces would bring them in too much, make them too real.” Bennett lists Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) as an influence, but he tends to avoid looking too much at art history for inspiration. “Not purposefully, but I’m not hugely interested in it. I know a lot of artists will probably hate that. A lot of people have discussed that with me already. We can learn about it and take something away from it but at the same time, art is about making new things.” Like the alabaster elements, the steel he uses is left unpolished and rough. Its patina is the natural result of the forging process: discoloration provided by the heat. Enzo Marra’s figurative paintings, too, have an unrefined appearance; painterly brush strokes and a minimal use of color provide little in the way of details of expression, as in Well Hung, for instance. In the painting, two figures are hanging a painting, presumably in a gallery setting. Marra, a London-based painter, creates a dialogue between himself as an artist and the works he takes as his subject: people in galleries and museums such as the Tate and the Getty Center. He paints observers looking at art, and in some cases, includes reductive takes on paintings by artists like Mark Rothko, whose compositions hang in those places. Even the human figures he paints are, as in Bennett’s work, reductive. Conversation, for instance, shows two seated figures, simply rendered in a series of thick brush strokes and without any distinguishing details. But, of the three, it’s Canadian-born artist Skaret who works most abstractly. A series of parallel, vertical lines descend through his painting Deep in the Black. The lines begin to converge toward the bottom of the composition, drawing the eye downward from the white upper portion and into darkness. If you look closely, the dark areas suggest a distant forest, glimpsed through long blades of grass. Rose Above reads as a land- or seascape where snaking tendrils of mist and fog move toward the viewer from a single point in the distance over dark and angry waters. Life Lines is the first time Skaret has exhibited work in Santa Fe. A common thread that ties these artists’ pieces together is a kind of rugged irregularity. Skaret’s paintings approach pure abstraction while still referencing the landscape — using, like Marra, a painterly technique that, rather than obscuring details, simply leaves detail out of the equation. Bennett’s sculptures allow for the medium to remain in a semi-raw state, without sacrificing graceful form.
Life Lines: New Works by Maxwell Bennett, Enzo Marra, and Karl Skaret Opening reception 5 p.m. Friday, Jan. 29 (gallery talk 4 p.m.); exhibit through May 29 Ellsworth Gallery, 215 E. Palace Ave., 505-989-7900