San Francisco

John Chamberlain

Dilexi Gallery

The blurring of the distinction between painting and sculpture is now almost so commonplace that it has become an accepted phenomenon. The Museum of Modern Art Assemblage exhibition, recently shown in San Francisco, was an attempt to define and categorize this particular trend, but as Irving Sandler once wrote “any attempt to define a style must fall short in describing the uniqueness of its most interesting artists.” Chamberlain, who was shown in this exhibition, certainly possesses this uncategorizable uniqueness.

The miracle of Chamberlain’s art is that these pieces of scarred and worn skins of automobiles—fenders, doors, chrome bumpers and sections from torn chassis, should be so elegant. His vision is so fresh that one is completely taken by surprise on seeing a large group of his works.

On first consideration the impact of Chamberlain’s material is overwhelming. The crumpled, bent and twisted painted metal surfaces mixed with cut-up sections of expressive violence. At the same time, in his use of previously painted and chromed surfaces he resolves the problem of applied patina or color to sculpture. In his hands Detroit’s vilest pink takes on a new life and meaning, his surfaces echo with the history of human usage, the once glossy and perfect paintwork faded and stained with the weathering of a thousand journeys, or scratched and dented from collision.

But on further consideration it becomes obvious that, in creating his three dimensional and highly sculptural collages, cutting the shapes from metal scrap, selecting and balancing the colors, and juxtaposing the various elements into the final form play the most important role in his art. Chamberlain fuses form and content with a new level of plastic insight and his ability to transcend the past history of his material without obliterating its origins, marks him as a sculptor of rare distinction. This exhibition of his work is a confirmation of the continuing strong and powerful creativity of American avant-garde art.

John Coplans