Los Angeles

Robert Graham

Nicholas Wilder Gallery

Graham, in this first one-man show, exhibited a group of boxes mostly made during 1965. They are crafted of wood and transparent plastic and contain Surrealist-inspired views of contemporary figure groups, modeled of unfired clay, realistically painted, performing secret, erotic, rituals in conventionalized landscapes and beachscapes. A nude man holds a girl in a bathing suit in an acrobatic pose in a pool of water, or a group of bathers indulge their sexual fantasy knee-deep in the sea. Landscapes themselves become conventionalized and almost sexy. On occasion, the figures merge with the landscapes—a man’s arm becomes a cotton cloud. Almost-hidden details are discovered upon close inspection—an incision scar across a girl’s stomach, mirrors that extend a landscape to infinity, glimpses of sexual arousal. Cloud images appear throughout, and seemingly irrational embellishments somehow work to create a level of almost compulsive mystery—the spectator is forced into the role of “voyeur.”

The Surrealism that one has come to view with a sense of intellectual detachment—the symbolism of Dali, Ernst, Magritte—is here somehow superseded by the immediacy of the subject and the formal rightness of the best pieces. There is an affinity to Cornell, for example, but with Graham there is a more contemporary, less poetic attitude. The boxes become sculpturally active—more than just containers—and the placement of the contained configurations gives the work the total sculptural integrity that has become rare in figurative sculpture today.

Don Factor