Kendrick sculpture: from abstract to figural

April 01, 1993|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

Mel Kendrick's wooden sculpture has been seen as a reaction against minimalism, an attempt to regain sculpture's history by reinventing the figure and incorporating aspects of such early modernist movements as cubism, futurism and constructivism.

But his work can be looked at in another way, too, and the current exhibit of sculpture and (something new for him) very large drawings at Grimaldis Gallery suggests such a different approach.

In addition to reclaiming history, these works appear to argue for 20th-century abstraction, the ability to express anything that any other period can express.

Kendrick's sculptures are made of bits and pieces of wood and initially look as if they were slapped together hastily; they are partly painted and may show fingerprints and other evidence of their making.

Whether one considers the seven small pedestal sculptures or the one floor-standing, human-sized work in the current show, there is an unmistakable suggestion of the figure about them. They have legs and torsos and heads, or at least parts that resemble them. And looking at them in their figural mode, one can easily see references to early modernism, especially analytical cubism's breaking down of the figure.

Certain aspects of these sculptures even recall specific works of earlier art. It is not surprising to see in "Red Oil, Poplar" a certain resemblance to Marcel Duchamp's famous painting, "Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2," since the latter was created, in 1912, when the early modernism that Kendrick so obviously recalls was in flower. It is more of a shock to look back at "Tall Blue Balsa" from a distance and recognize "The Discus Thrower."

But there is a further stage of seeing with Kendrick's work. Eventually the recognition games exhaust themselves, and then they reassert their abstractness. That is when one begins to realize that they can communicate more in abstract terms than they can in figural ones, for that is when one sees them expressing in pure terms the human qualities that Kendrick is also about.

One cannot ascribe specific states of mind to specific sculptures. But there is a great deal of emotion and aspiration, suffering and hope in these pieces. And in their awkward grace lies a very American combination of humility and assertiveness. There's a paradox at work here, in that when one sees Kendrick's sculptures as pure abstract form their content comes through most strongly, whereas when one sees them as figural -- as representing something -- one understands best their formal concerns and relationship to art history.

That may be especially evident in this show due to the inclusion of five of the artist's large recent "drawings," which are actually created through a process that includes aspects of sculpture and printing. Kendrick cuts out pieces of plywood with a saw, assembles the pieces in various configurations, then inks them and prints them on large sheets of paper.

Because the plywood is of different grades, from poorer to better, part of it prints grainy and part smoothly black.

One can "read" these parts, if one wants, as starry sky and rushing water or oddly patterned fields -- as relative to landscape. But they are really landscapes of the mind, which communicate best in terms of light and dark, solid and void, shape and texture.


What: Mel Kendrick exhibit.

Where: The C. Grimaldis Gallery, 523 N. Charles St.

When: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. Through May 1.

Call: (410) 539-1080.

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