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Art Review : 'Adjustments' As Wright Memorial

March 06, 1987|SUZANNE MUCHNIC | Times Art Writer

Among the artworks that Boyd Wright left behind when he died last April is a gangly wood sculpture called "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." Looking like one of those loose-jointed dolls that snaps into action with the pull of a string, the skeletal figure--clad only in a fig leaf--now hangs on a wall at the Laguna Art Museum. With its heart in one hand, a pin-up card tucked into a knee cap and a slab for a head--bearing the image of a skull and the words easy but sad --this poignant image is the personification of an artist who is mourned by his colleagues.

Wright's abrupt death in Ojai, at 42, turned a projected exhibition of sculpture by him and three other artists into a memorial. Curator Jim Edwards had planned to pair the work of Californians Wright and Doug Edge with that of Texans Jim Love and Danny O'Dowdy as he celebrated the connections between contemporaries who revel in light-hearted irony and pursue Western-style independence.

Now called "Adjustments Must Be Made Continually," the show became a testament to an adjustment that the three remaining artists hadn't anticipated. What might have come off as a good ol' boys' party turned into a commentary on the transience of all human associations.

In a selection of 10 works by Wright, we find him whittling tree branches, carving solid forms and combining the two with such found objects as photographs, moose antlers and dice. Whether autobiographical or directed toward woodsmen's dreams, these fragile sculptures are poetic meanderings that can rarely be tied to a specific place or story line. They do fall into the category of narrative art, however, a genre that roughly unites disparate work in the show.

Edge's overpowering sculptures update Greek mythological figures Apollo, Hermes, Atlas, Athena and Prometheus with a contemporary sense of vulnerability and wit. Atlas is a modern-day version of Rodin's "Thinker" who sits on a flight of stairs, resting his global head on one hand. Athena is all muscular legs and high-heeled shoes, while "Prometheus" is an artist in distress.

Primarily concerned with "the acculturation of Mexicans" on the Texas border, O'Dowdy implies the narrative form by including words and phrases in ambitiously crafted wall pieces, one in the shape of an open book. They draw us into their secrets through attractive fragments but rarely reveal themselves. A "Madonna Clock Radio," however, gets right to the point by blending a religious image with a radio sculpture tuned in to Christian air waves.

Love's work has difficulty rising above its charm and one-line jokes; it's hard to appear serious while welding cute little Pooh bears. Subtler is better in his case, as we see in "A Day to Remember," a steel letter with unreadable script, and a "Self Portrait" depicting the artist as a pair of glasses peering out through a window that is about to have its shade drawn.

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