The first time I saw Picasso’s early constructions I was struck by how small they were. These tiny objects of wood, paper, tin and string, so vital to the birth of constructivist sculpture, trick you by their size. There is a sense of monumentality implied through these little forms.
The numerous series from which the works in this exhibition are drawn have been undertaken at intervals, usually when I need a change of pace in the studio. The form that a fresh series takes is most often shaped by a newly discovered material–found bits of forging, harness links, intricate mouldings… one series is built around telephone bells.
Since my first encounter with those tiny Picassos, I’ve learned much about rhythm and concentration, and how the two must blend seamlessly during the making of a sculpture. It takes a very different pacing, combined with a trance-like attention, to feel one’s way into small-scale work. My desire here is to create objects with the concentrated energy that allows them to be viewed from a distance yet also demands your close-up attention. I want them to occupy their own inner realms, coaxing the viewer into a kind of childlike fascination, followed then by a peaceful recognition of many things felt.Douglas Bentham, October 2009
The language of abstract sculpture has much in common with modern poetry. Robert Frost’s poetry, for instance, unites opposites. Art at its best, in all its disciplines, can be casual in tone but profound in effect; teasing and intense; playful, yet deeply penetrating.
As an individual sculpture begins to declare itself during the making, it also reveals a certain mood that evolves in various forms throughout a series. In these new sculptures this mood emerges, as in Frost’s ‘Stopping by Woods’, from a kind of frozen silence, intriguing yet mysterious. If we are attracted to the notion that a particular place can suggest ideas unlimited by space, it is because we recognize that in nature, as in art, there are those moments that can hold us in a state of sublime mystery—that beauty, however elusive, is enmeshed in implicit truth.Douglas Bentham
A concern with light and imaginative thought permeates the exhibition. In the Spires and Towers, for example, titles like The Shape of Things, Point of Repose, A Thousand Years and Enchantment imply a physical and metaphorical space. Uncannily, an abstract concept of unified verticality composed of fractured bits and pieces of metal is conveyed. Literally erratic, but graceful, stacked sections of brass and copper tubes, cylinders and plates telescope in slightly askew ascendancy to an unknown destination, perhaps echoing our collective frailties and uncertainties associated with recent events of world history.Dan Ring, exhibition catalogue, Resonance, Mendel Art Gallery, 2004
The Totems, reflecting their title, have a figurative presence. They are more planar in construct, with architectural mouldings, metal strapping and reed-like bundles juxtaposed against rich, overlapping plates of brass. Totem X: The Chant, with its contrasts of sheen, textures and forms, can be seen as a physical analogue to a contrapuntal motet. Totem III: The Secret includes cylindrical forms of brass rod and decorative brass tulips enclosed within frames of brass plate. These elements, combined with vessel-like forms, produce subtle transitions of dark to light and a mysterious, organic feel. The title is reinforced by a date and name stamped into a brass ring midway up the work, a hidden reference to the birthdate of a friend’s son, a detail that reinforces the human scale and tender emotion of this sculpture.Dan Ring, exhibition catalogue, Resonance, Mendel Art Gallery, 2004
‘Espalier’ is a horticultural term for a tree or shrub trained to grow flat against a surface in a symmetrical (or asymmetrical) form. In these sculptures, the figural body of the work is made up of configurations of overlapping and abutting planes; I ‘draw’ upon this surface with linear, branch-like elements, which produce the espaliered form.
The Espaliers, an ongoing series of life-scale sculptures in stainless steel, have also become active studies in demonstrating the potential for abstract figure-oriented artworks to serve a prominent role in visually enhancing public settings. This potential has been achieved through a process in which strategic works from the series are physically scaled-up in a proportion of 1:2, resulting in works with a monumental, yet physically approachable, scale. The titles of these sculptures are drawn from the names of Greek mythological figures and emphasize the inspiration people have drawn from the human form and nature.
The Centurions convey introspection and reflection. Idiosyncratic and anthropomorphic as a group, they have a cubist or even surrealist sensibility: stoic figures marking a transition in time between millennia. At once awkward, humorous, archaic and stately, they are “more slowly wrought because they emerge from materials with a more inherent history (wheels, tools, implement parts and such), often bolted together.”[i] The age and richly patinated surfaces of recycled clusters of copper tubes from heat exchangers and brass plates with raised cruciform shapes (originally embedded in concrete as supports for old machinery) encourage a symbolic reading. Dark into Light, for example, is constructed of concentric sleeves of brass placed on an early-twentieth century cast bronze chandelier with egg-and-dart and acanthus leaf moulding. Resembling an inverted classical column, this work reinforces a connection to architecture and to the past, a leitmotif of Resonance. Its title references liminality and light as a signifier of knowledge; as one looks into the sculpture, dramatic contrasts of light and shadow appear, elusive, smouldering off the surfaces of brass and lead solder knifed onto the circle of the innermost cylinder. This flowing, evocative, liquid sense of light imparts an ethereal and otherworldly quality to the work that immerses the viewer in a childlike rapture of imagination.Dan Ring, exhibition catalogue, Resonance, Mendel Art Gallery, 2004
[i] Bentham to Ring, April, 2004.