Los Angeles

Robert Graham

Nicholas Wilder Gallery

Robert Graham’s sculptures at the Nicholas Wilder Gallery are strange and individual works of Surreal fantasy. Now explicitly erotic, the tiny figures, six to eight inches high, modeled from pigmented beeswax, take part in curiously rare and memorable tableaux. Their most remarkable quality is their minuteness and the intense and demanding concentration directed to their realistic recreation. As examples, one nude is complete in detail to hair and eyelashes, and another sunbather sips a summer drink fitted out with a citrus slice and a straw. Impressive also is the wide range of materials used as props in each setting and presentation, particularly of varieties of plastic.

The situations take place beneath plastic covers like precious samples of unrepressed Victoriana. These clear walls are often dotted with tiny balls of wax, or the scenes are partially obscured by spotted plastic sheets or banner-hung cords, as if to obstruct the view. They serve to remind the voyeur of the privacy of these creatures. One is fully conscious of the intruding ambiguousness of peeking in on Barbie, Ken and all their sexually emancipated friends romping about in a Freudian plastic land.

In body type they are unflinchingly observed, contemporary and athletic—similar to those favored by Pearlstein and Thiebaud—with more emphasis on their animal nature. Nudist publication photos suggest themselves as a probable source. An introversion, a submersion of personality, or involvement with a single sensual activity persists alongside strong strains of narcissism and frenzied passion. The ladder climber and the potato rider demonstrate these latter extremes. Graham has also developed an odd range of additional symbols. The banana, star, and ladder are within public accessibility, but others like the plastic block catafalque with roses on top remain enigmatic and private.

Fidel A. Danieli