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THE ART GALLERIES

Downtown

October 10, 1986|COLIN GARDNER

Jay Willis' former sculpture has worked through conflicting dualities, in particular a predilection for electric color and gestural flair set against stolid Contructivist principles, where line, geometry and the sanctity of materials usually manage to keep his decorative impulse in reasonable check. This equilibrium has become increasingly unbalanced in recent years, Willis seemingly sacrificing formal edge and spatial tension in favor of an easy formula bordering on mannerism.

There are signs, however, that Willis is breaking loose from this stylistic straightjacket, and it's probably no coincidence that the move is accompanied by a return to his structural roots. The new work continues Willis' early concerns with the three-dimensional form and its relationship to the wall. The old net-like constructions of wire rods and circles, the interlocking frameworks of steel pillars and horizonal beams, have now given way to vertical, curvilinear pieces in bronze, aluminum and wood. The surface gesture is still there, in the form of transparent color washes or clashing juxtapositions of solid primaries, but it now seems to be more of an extraneous affectation than an emotive end in itself.

We are far more conscious of the interplay between rigidity of line and suppleness of form, between each object's dependence on the wall as an anchor and its desire to twist free. We also become increasingly aware of constructive artifice, of the spatial illusion between overall structure and the almost contradictory component parts that hold it together. There is still a large sense of deja vu , of having seen this sort of thing regurgitated ad nauseam through the annals of modernism, but it is an encouraging sign that Willis is once again focusing his attention on touching retinal nerves rather than indulging superficial aesthetic appetites. (Cirrus, 542 S. Alameda St., to Nov. 1.)

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