Streckfus's found objects layer meaning onto junk

November 08, 1993|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

Leonard Streckfus can look at a bowling pin and see the body of a horse, or at the points of a small shovel's scoop and see the ears of a cat. "Leaping Cat," in his current show at Galerie Francoise, is made of that shovel, a wooden baluster, some bike parts and a pump handle as a great long tail.

Streckfus' junk -- or to be politically correct about it, "found object" -- sculpture can be taken simply for its fun value or treated more seriously as making an environmental statement as well. He's recycling -- coffee cans into cowboy boots and shoe lasts into zebras.

Lately, while continuing to make these delightful sculptures, he's been going in a somewhat different direction as well. He combines painting and relief sculpture in works in which he adds found objects to a traditional flat painted surface and then paints them, creating a work that lies somewhere between painting and sculpture.

In some of these, Streckfus mines the past to create works that invite speculation about the nature of heroism. "Forefather Figure" presents a representation of Washington, made up of a partly painted costume from which spring head and neck made of found objects, a three-dimensional red mantle thrown across the shoulders and a hand grasping a walking stick -- or, if you like, a scepter -- whose head is the metal bulb of a toilet tank apparatus. "Hector and Achilles" similarly has the two warriors in found-object relief against a painted background.

In his three-dimensional sculptures Streckfus leaves the found objects as they are, but in the reliefs he paints most of them, so it's harder to tell what they are. One can take this to mean that we don't know who our heroes really are behind the masks that they present to the world.

But it's not quite as simple as that, for if you examine Hector and Achilles, you discover that they're made of plastic bottles that once contained household cleaning substances -- Ivory dish-washing detergent, for instance. Streckfus may be calling Homer's heroes squeaky clean compared to today's model. Or is he saying that we are all made of the same pretty mundane stuff, but some make greatness out of it and some don't? Is this a visual version of the parable of the talents? Or is it that greatness is thrust upon otherwise ordinary people who happen to be at the right place at the right time?

These works are fairly open; in gentle Streckfus fashion, they invite interpretation rather than push a meaning down your throat. The first aim of Streckfus' art is not to be didactic but to please, and then if you want to go further with it, fine. It is a serious art of the broadest appeal.

The relief works are more complex in content than the pure sculptures, but I'm not sure they're as successful in all ways. They don't have quite the same integrity -- I mean in the sense of being whole, not in the sense of honesty. That's not to say they're unfinished, but that they don't hang together as well as the sculptures do; they don't seem to the same degree just right.

But Streckfus is an old hand with the sculptures; he's just starting in with the reliefs, and he'll know sooner than anyone else if they're a major new direction or a temporary digression.

ART REVIEW

What: Leonard Streckfus

Where: Galerie Francoise et ses freres, Green Spring Station, Falls and Joppa roads

When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through Nov. 30

Call: (410) 337-2787

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