San Francisco

James Grant and William Wiley

Hansen Gallery

Transformation is replacing illusion in today’s art. The paraphernalia which seemed essential only a short time ago has been shelved. Perspective may survive, but it can stand a season’s rest. The actual thing is now bodied forth, when not in actual fact as sculpture in the mass, then as a cast or print of the actual object; not a picture but a replica is replacing the former illusionist’s magic reproduction.

During periods of experiment with new methods and materials the artist almost invariably abandons romantic expression and nostalgia, and the work becomes classical and formal. An exposition of method and form naturally replaces critical preoccupation with meaning, but such periods often parallel a general questioning of taboos and cultural habits, and represent the origins of a new wave, a re-beginning for the mainstream of the society, a reflection of the general spirit of change and re-examination.

At the Hansen Gallery, James Grant is showing new work in which he has taken molds of such real objects as manhole covers, egg crates, shot glasses, etc., and has cast them in polyester resin. These transformations are immediately suggestive of huge ceramic pieces. The process of infusing color into the plastic leads to color separations very similar to those that potters have obtained in the kiln heretofore. Difficulties in a change of color along a firm edge necessitated forming these pieces in separate parts and fusing them together. Though these pieces are actually a mosaic of parts they are firmly joined, and some of the most felicitous distortions are probably the result of the process of fusing together. The color goes all the way through rather than being painted on the surface. The found object is molded for the casting, but the object itself is left to cover its manhole, or whatever, giving the artist a much wider range of findable objects. The plastic seems to have no real material characteristics of its own. Parts of these wall reliefs are cast from cement and the grain and quality of cement is faithfully reproduced. Only a short time ago the “integrity of the material” was a favorite critical and pedagogical cliché, but the artists are now, in increasing numbers, appropriating the commercial manufacturer’s penchant for using synthetics to reproduce the appearance of things (wood grain linoleum or formica, for instance). Many of Grant’s forms are cast from found objects which are themselves castings, cast iron being his favorite.

In the upstairs part of the gallery are some new paintings by William Wiley. Wiley, too, has done a few tentative pieces of sculpture, but for the most part he has painted pictures of the new sculpture. Great long blocks of the ultra-simplified, space-dictating concretions occupy perspective distances in these topical cartoons of recent sculptural innovations. Painterly qualities have been eradicated; colors are muted; but all of the artist’s devices for deception have been marshalled to put this anti-illusionist sculpture into perspective.

Knute Stiles