Weighty pieces feel ar­chaic

Sculp­tures evoke sense of ruins

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Art - By Fredric Koep­pel

Surely they are sen­tinels, these 13 tall, qui­es­cent shapes that oc­cupy the fore­court at Dixon Gallery and Gar­dens. Or per­haps they’re guardians, mutely sanc­tion­ing our sleep and dreams.

What­ever they are, the Dixon has never seen any­thing like these sculp­tures by lo­cal artist Jim Buch­man, on dis­play through Dec. 2. Whether seen on a bright, sunny day or un­der the gloam­ing of cloud cover and driz­zle, the pieces can­not fail to im­press on myr­iad aes­thetic and emo­tional lev­els.

Ac­com­pa­ny­ing the works out­side are 19 pieces in the Mal­lory and Wurtzburger Gallery inside, smaller sculp­tures that served as stud­ies for the larger ones and the be­gin­ning of Buch­man’s ef­forts in this man­ner go­ing back to 2003 in cast con­crete and 1995 in carved, turned and chipped wood.

John Keats called the Gre­cian urn that in­spired his poem “thou still un­rav­ished bride of quiet­ness,” but while Buch­man’s mainly mon­u­men­tal sculp­tures em­body a weighty, in­deed pon­der­ous si­lence they’re any­thing but un­rav­ished. Part of his skill and cre­ative in­sight is to al­low each piece to change as we walk around it, segue­ing from al­most vir­ginal sim­plic­ity of form to heavy grid-like pat­tern­ing to the vi­o­lence of hewn, cleaved and sun­dered facets. Most of the out­door pieces ter­mi­nate in some sort of chim­ney-like ef­fect, a de­vice that be­cause of the somber­ness of the pieces and their dark or stone-like col­ors lends a cer­tain fore­bod­ing qual­ity; we have to won­der what smoke and ash were ex­pelling by these in­tri­cate, massy col­umns.

Buch­man seems to be con­sciously aim­ing for an ar­chaic feel­ing in these pieces, though whether con­sciously or not he has at­tained that goal. Ki­pling men­tioned the an­cient longdis­ap­peared cities of Nin­eveh and Tyre in his com­mem­o­ra­tive poem “Re­ces­sional,” and there is about Buch­man’s work a con­sis­tent sense of an­cient ruins, in­choate his­tory and bruised hubris; as Shel­ley says, iron­i­cally, in “Ozy­man­dias”: “Look on my works, ye mighty, and de­spair.”

Sim­i­larly, these totems speak of aban­don­ment and of in­ter­rupted nar­ra­tives, and yet they are, how­ever deeply in­cised and var­i­ously pat­terned and flow­ing, rig­or­ously ab­stract.

In­deed, as dif­fi­cult as it may be to sub­tract as­so­ci­a­tions from such sug­ges­tive work, it’s in re­gard­ing them as ab­strac­tion that we do them most jus­tice, as pure ex­pres­sions of three-di­men­sional form in air and how they po­tently pos­sess, as ar­tic­u­la­tion and con­fig­u­ra­tion, the amount of at­mos­phere they dis­place.

But we can’t be purists all the time. Feel free to bring your pri­vate feel­ings and as­sess­ments to these ex­traor­di­nar­ily evoca­tive pieces. You won’t for­get them for a long time.

FREDRIC KOEP­PEL/SPE­CIAL TO THE COM­MER­CIAL AP­PEAL

Cast ce­ment sculp­tures by Jim Buch­man, (front) “Lat­eral Fol­lower,” (mid­dle) “Red Pig­ment,” (rear) “Un­der­sea”

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