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by Kerry Kugelman | 1994

Guy Wilson's sculptures have a staunch and quiet way about them, an earnest strength allied with their more subtle qualities. A sculptor who has worked primarily in traditional materials, his concern has always been the figure, and in robust proportions. Brawny, vigorous bodies that recall the craggy, muscular work of Rodin populate Wilson's studies and finished pieces. A surety and skill with the human form attends his work, which includes two recent public sculpture commissions. The classical heroicism of much of his previous sculpture, however, while formally impressive, has for the most part adhered to polite formal canons of pose and setting.

In a recent installation of sculptures at the Claremont Graduate School, though, Wilson's work has taken a dynamic new turn. With only the drab shades of stained and faded cardboard, Wilson has composed a suite of poignant commentaries on the body. This new work, while retaining and even extending the blunt physicality of the figurative sculpture, reveals a sensitivity that was not as evident in the earlier work. Utilizing the detritus of industrial packaging, Wilson deftly asserts essential formal concerns of proportion, muscular tension and balance, and adds telling observations about the relation of body to Other.

Though his materials - cardboard, plaster and baling wire - might superficially suggest a lineage with Arte Povera , Wilson's sensitive approach and handling reaches a greater level of refinement. Boxes become bodies, containers of experience, letting the cardboard surfaces read, by extension, as the skin of these works. In this way Wilson has attained a conceptual depth that exceeds his previous work. Skin as surface, threshold, and portal of the body becomes the means for an inquiry into the boundary zone with which we feel the world. This new work frees the discourse of the body from the language of the figure, allowing questions of relationality to be framed outside the traditional figural text.

Ascension, 1994, is soaring and exultant, perhaps the signal piece of this exhibition. The great unfurled expanse of boxes overhead fairly trembles with its release from bondage in the work below. This is a true aspiration, a breathing in and out, that speaks to the life of the body in a way that figuration would struggle to attain. Here is underscored the sense of deliverance of and from the physical form that is only hinted at elsewhere in the exhibition.

A grotto of dolmen-like forms, congregated in the central gallery space, imparts a sense of witness to the proceedings. Their scale and posture suggest figures bound into a space between resistance and resignation. Caught in a strange twilight perception, they suggest gnarled trees or writhing bodies bound by restraints.

In Wilson's two Portals, 1994, he posits surface/skin as gateway, a passage of physical experience. It is through flesh that we enter the world, and through flesh that we seek physical union with another. The Portals appear as altars or doors, opening onto the possibility of spiritual or physical transformation. A reflective quietude in these two works gently balances the more vigorous quality of the others.

This body of work shows Wilson has found an unusual sculptural language for which he has a striking affinity. His extension of the discourse about the figure and the body treads on fascinating ground.