Dark matter James Marshall’s sculptures
JAMES MARSHALL’S SCULPTURES
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