Dark mat­ter James Mar­shall’s sculp­tures


Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - 397,

IN the the­ory of evo­lu­tion, fos­sils or or­gan­isms that show the in­ter­me­di­ate state be­tween an­ces­tral species and their descen­dants are known as tran­si­tional forms. But they are not nec­es­sar­ily evo­lu­tion­ary mis­takes that didn’t quite work out. Ev­ery species is po­ten­tially a mere link on an evo­lu­tion­ary chain, even our own. Evo­lu­tion is a lim­i­nal state, not a fixed state, and is al­ways in flux.

It isn’t hard to re­late evo­lu­tion­ary mod­els to artis­tic pro­cesses, a dif­fer­ence be­ing that in the prac­tice of mak­ing art, one has a di­rec­tor, a maker who may or may not know the out­come of a project be­fore he or she be­gins. There is a trans­for­ma­tion that oc­curs both ma­te­ri­ally and aes­thet­i­cally in stu­dio prac­tice. Even the most re­duc­tive of art­works of­ten in­volves a build-up or bring­ing to­gether of ma­te­ri­als, adding some­thing that wasn’t al­ready there that, more of­ten than not, changes the na­ture of what­ever the ma­te­rial was be­fore it be­came art. One can talk about James Mar­shall’s mono­lithic ce­ramic sculp­ture, cur­rently on view at Peters Projects, as hy­brid forms, but to do so im­plies a di­vi­sion of equal mea­sure: half this, half that. Rather, each sculp­ture is sin­gu­lar, whole and com­plete in it­self, the re­sult of a co­he­sion of forms. “It’s a way to ex­press what I call bring­ing two into one,” Mar­shall, whose show is ti­tled Black In­ter­fu­sion, told Pasatiempo.

Each sculp­ture in Black In­ter­fu­sion has a twotoned, gray­ish-black sur­face, two dis­tinct glazes with dif­fer­ent tex­tures and fin­ishes. The seam cre­ated where the two tones meet sep­a­rates one part of a sculp­ture from another. His piece Black 397, for in­stance, has a ver­ti­cal di­vi­sion off-cen­ter. One side of the work is a deep black color, while the other is more of a gun­metal black. The sub­tle shift in tone and den­sity of color from one area of the sur­face to the other brings depth and di­men­sion­al­ity to the sculp­ture. “The di­men­sion­al­ity man­i­fests be­cause not only are there two tones of gray­ish black, but in some of the works there are two seem­ingly dis­parate forms that are be­gin­ning to fuse to­gether or that have fused to­gether into uni­tary form,” he said. “It’s al­most like an ob­ject mov­ing through space, and it reaches a ve­loc­ity of such mag­ni­tude that it starts chang­ing its shape, but it hasn’t lost el­e­ments of its orig­i­nal shape.”

Mar­shall, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of ce­ram­ics at Santa Fe Com­mu­nity Col­lege, has long been in­ter­ested in the con­cept of lim­i­nal­ity and ex­press­ing it in art. “In all of the work that I’ve done, the idea of the lim­i­nal is one of the foun­da­tions for how the work man­i­fests in the stu­dio.” Mar­shall re­calls that when he was five, his in­ter­est in sculp­tural forms first be­gan to ma­te­ri­al­ize. “I would es­cape the fam­ily dy­namic and go down into the boiler room, and there were all these parts down there: wood, string, nails, glues, ham­mers, and paints and stuff. The thing that fas­ci­nated me the most was sneak­ing down there and tak­ing dis­parate el­e­ments and bring­ing them to­gether into a form. Back then I was build­ing these boats out of blocks of wood and string and blue paint. Dur­ing the process they would trans­form into one thing, and then they would trans­form into some­thing else. Then they would come to­gether with some glue. I think I was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a lim­i­nal mo­ment un­con­sciously.” In the in­ter­ven­ing years, Mar­shall has be­come more con­scious of his in­tent as an artist and how lim­i­nal­ity can be ex­pressed.

“For me, these works vi­brate be­tween one pos­si­ble iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and another. That leaves the work open to mul­ti­ple in­ter­pre­ta­tions. That’s the bedrock of life and ex­is­tence, that con­stant open­ness to the mul­ti­plic­ity of things.”

His sculp­tures are ab­stract geo­met­ric forms that con­trast hard-edged an­gu­lar shapes with amor­phous curvi­lin­ear ones. They are re­duc­tive forms, rem­i­nis­cent of mod­ernist sculp­ture. The var­i­ous tones of black mark off one sec­tion from another. For in­stance,

Black 502, a fin-shaped ob­ject with a rec­tan­gu­lar sec­tion on one side, ap­pears to be in a spa­tial re­la­tion­ship with the rest of the sculp­ture, as if it were some­how a sep­a­rate piece even though it is con­nected to the whole. It isn’t just the tones of black that Mar­shall uses to achieve this ef­fect, how­ever. The line where the two tones meet is in­te­gral in sug­gest­ing dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion as well as a fu­sion of forms. Garth Clark, ed­i­tor-in-chief for the CFile Foun­da­tion, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that sup­ports ce­ramic arts, has noted that if that line ap­pears at a joint, mak­ing it more pro­nounced, it looks like “a sol­der­ing line on a pewter ves­sel.” The rough qual­ity of the line in Mar­shall’s work is a con­trast to the high-fin­ish man­u­fac­tured qual­ity of min­i­mal­ism. The color works in con­cert with the shapes and forms, which are at times rem­i­nis­cent of nat­u­ral and hu­man-made ob­jects but are not at­tempts at sim­u­lacra or rep­re­sen­ta­tion. A curve in the mold­ing of an ar­chi­tec­tural fea­ture in­spired a shape in Black

for ex­am­ple, but the piece is not an at­tempt at recre­at­ing the mold­ing, save for the el­e­gant sweep of the curv­ing line.

“The fas­ci­na­tion for me is to build, to make work, cre­ate work that tran­scends the medium and tran­scends tech­nique,” he said. “In other words, I think all good art, when you’re first look­ing at it, you’re not look­ing at the tour-de-force of tech­niques. You’re not look­ing at the medium. What you see some­how tran­scends all that, so you’re see­ing some­thing else. That’s def­i­nitely one of my goals in how I work.”

James Mar­shall: Black 397, 2017; op­po­site page, Black 502, 2017; both ce­ramic

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