Nature and the man-made co-exist with Isherwood Art review: Sculptor gives to stone the suggestion of civilization.

February 13, 1996|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

If the country is the home of nature and the city is the province of the man-made, then Jon Isherwood's sculptures embrace both. He takes masses of stone and -- by smoothing, hollowing, incising and otherwise working it -- gives it connotations of civilizations past and possibly future. But it retains enough of its natural state to speak of what those civilizations were built on and to what they will certainly return.

Some words carry inescapable baggage. Say "Forum," the title of one of the best works here, and Rome inevitably springs to mind. This hollowed out white marble mass, with two eye-like slits in the front, might be the ruin of a great Roman hall. Peering into its interior, one has a sense of scale magnified. Its exterior surfaces evoke both architecture and nature. Although the front surface has been flattened and smoothed by the artist, the marble's graining also evokes nature in its resemblance to a Chinese landscape -- sea at the bottom, mountains in the center and sky above.

Isherwood is not afraid of mixing references, as if to say that all creativity is related in springing from the same source. "Islander" has an iconic presence much like the stone heads of Easter Island, but the three slits on its face, ending in circular indentations, can suggest musical notes, clock pendulums or even (if we take this indeed to be a face) the scarification practiced by some societies.

The face of the green marble "Jade" has been cut away to permit entrance as if to a cavern. But its surface suggests the night sky, with groupings of starlike white spots as constellations. Look at this triangular work from another angle, however, and the thrust of its two sides to a point at the back bring to mind the Winged Victory of Samothrace.

Despite the strengths of these works, they are quite self-conscious and at times become too much so. "Balzac" perfectly evokes Rodin's great statue of the author, the head reared back and the chest thrust out. But one wonders what the point is: The resemblance is so strong that it prohibits any other associations the work might have and so it ends up being something of an exercise. When effectively lighted, "Hidden Truths" projects a drama a bit too calculated to retain enough of the natural element needed to keep these works in balance.

At their best, they look as if their truths were inherent, and discovered by the artist. They are less effective when they look as if the artist has imposed his will on them too strongly.

The show includes several of Isherwood's drawings, each called "Drawing for Sculpture." The title is deceptive, for they do not look like the sculptures but were created in working out problems related to sculpture. In their veiled layers of darkness punctuated by light and color, they suggest mysterious forests pierced by sunlight.

Jon Isherwood

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

When: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through March 2

Call: (410) 539-1080

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