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VALLEY WEEKEND | SIGHTS

Sculptures Are Slick, Abstract and Challenging

High polish and easy curves beckon viewers into Vic Helman's works, which then invite interpretation.

August 15, 1996|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

On first impression, Vic Helman's wood and steel sculptures are slick, streamlined things, suitable for any living room. But there is more to the story. Helman's generous collection of works at Burbank's Creative Arts Center Gallery celebrates fine craftsmanship and shows an obvious affection for polished, preened wood.

Helman's work is all about smooth, rounded surfaces and comb-like metal braces that serve both a formal and functional role. Yet he also shows a sense of playfulness within the context of his chosen materials, reinventing real-life objects and slouching toward abstraction.

Apart from occasional lapses into figurative kitsch--such as with a catty, crafty "Feline"--Helman is not particularly interested in literal representation. "Probe" depicts a space probe broadly, with weird, soft-edged suggestions of machinery.

"Unicycle" has been reduced to a utilitarian object, a semi-futurist concoction. The central motif of "Microphone" reminds us of unwieldy pre-World War II radio microphones, but the reference is intentionally vague, a vehicle for a structure that involves a circular form atop a series of steel rods.

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Musical references include unplayable alien harps and a suggestion of a fractured treble clef. Helman also extends a natural affinity for creating candelabra, including a personalized menorah, fanning out with spidery wooden tendrils.

Dealing with less concrete ideas, Helman also presents geometric conundrums that relate to his sculptural process. "Suspended" is just that: a wood form, carved into furling patterns to suggest the quality of fabric, is suspended from a wood base by an armature of steel rods. "Elliptical Form" finds a wooden ellipse again held into place by a steel comb, and seeming to cast a shadow--which is, functionally, the piece's wooden base.

In these sculptures, metal is always being used as a means of securing and literally interlacing with wood, as in the aptly titled "Pierced." But the relationship of these two contrary materials is a kindly, symbiotic one, never frictional.

Whereas Helman most often slyly dances around the matter of subject here, at least one piece focuses on a something very specific. He has dared to take on a three-dimensional variation on Picasso's legendary antiwar painting "Guernica," isolating from that work an assortment of figures--both recognizable and mutant--and arranging them into a tableau, on a chest-high pedestal.

A hum of paradox rises up from the beautiful surfaces and contours of the wood and the anguish of the scene, a motley presentation of stressed animalia, distorted flesh, and expressions of torment. It's as if they are victims of inhumanity, flailing in disbelief and stuck between a hellish mortal life and an unjust heaven.

While Helman's variation on Picasso's theme could easily be perceived as an audacious interpretation of a masterpiece, he does capture something of the spirit of the original, in what is clearly the showpiece in his exhibition.

Overall, the show is a mild-mannered affair, with some notable exceptions and cerebral asides. Helman's work may seem casual and crafty, but at its best it projects a gleam of dignity. Wood and metal are the media, and the message is subject to change and permutation.

DETAILS

* WHAT: Victor Helman, sculptures.

* WHERE: At the Creative Arts Center Gallery, 1100 W. Clark Ave. in Burbank.

* WHEN: Through Aug. 22. Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday.

* CALL: (818) 238-5397.

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