Los Angeles

H. C. Westermann

Dilexi Gallery

The primary problem with most recent work in the area of assemblage has been the dominance of literary concepts at the expense of formal integrity. Extra-pictorial subject matter has in most instances directed form, thus creating a sort of sophisticated, urban folk art. Westermann has been one of those artists caught in this trap of contemporary myth-making. In his early pieces he dealt in autobiographical surreal symbolism generally in a rather conventional manner. From this he developed his more well-known series of anthropomorphic houses, boxes and machines such as Great Mother Womb, To a Black Magic Maker and Angry Young Machine. In these pieces there is an obvious, almost compulsive craftsmanship that tends to transcend the purely satiric structures, and creates a painful mood of madness and immediacy.

It is the most recent though, that becomes most interesting. (The show includes work done over approximately the past six years.) These are polychromatic wood sculptures that forego the folksy illustration of the earlier work and concentrate on a more abstract and ambiguous symbolic unity. The symbols are not read, as in the previous work, but are rather felt, intuitively. All of these pieces are covered with an all-over paint technique of brilliantly colored floated pigments that create a loud, garish, marbleized surface that is at once beautiful and a burlesque of all that is artificial in our world. From this coating in Untitled (?) rises a large, fat question mark looking forlornly like a great useless hook protected by its surface from all answers. In Where Angels Fear to Tread strange almost symbols—a mechanical looking squared off breast, a compressed automobile wheel and fender and an unrecognizable object—sit placidly lined up like some modern version of the old see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, monkeys on a wooden base, carefully hand painted in genuine imitation wood grain. All of Westermann’s work has the look of painfully inspired madness, but in the recent sculptures it has achieved a purity that is at once extremely visual, comic and profound.

Donald Factor