New York

Robert Howard

Royal Marks Gallery

At the Royal Marks Gallery, Robert Howard shows six pieces of recent sculpture in polychrome welded steel. The show breaks down into three pairs each of which has a specific kind of composition. In one group (Landscape XXII, Landscape XVIII) lenticular pods are perched on tubular flexing arms to suggest a spare and enlarged fantastic botany. The polychromy in these pieces, respectively blue and violet, and shades of ochre, is very carefully modulated to dictate one’s sequential experience of the forms. All of Howard’s pieces are marked by a nice sense of balance, a balance which involves not only the actual statics of the piece, but the optical weight of the various colored forms as well. In the two “lenticular” landscapes, this double balance is effected very freely throughout the surrounding space in all directions.

The second group of Howard’s pieces makes use of compositions that suggest anatomies, or more precisely, functionally interrelated muscular entities. The two pieces of this sort in the exhibition (Landscape XXI, Landscape XXIV) each have bulging shoulder-like volumes which gesture vigorously in lateral movement. Despite the titles, these figurative allusions are reinforced by the clean sections which terminate the outermost lateral forms; the effect is like the sawn-off limbs of some antique sculptural fragments. The energetically interpenetrating volumes of these pieces are not, however, antique in their heroic suggestions, but more springily dynamic: the shoulders are Boccioni’s. In the first of these two pieces the “musculature” is set atop a forthrightly vertical stand that emphasizes the principal views, which are directly frontal: the energies and torsions of the piece move outward to the sides. The other piece, Landscape XXIV, has its shoulder girdle arrangement mounted atop a double-arching tubular member of contrasting color. This arrangement, as well as the more obviously varied color (Landscape XXI is all in very close shades of fire-engine red) picks up the richer spatial movement and extensions of the piece: its dynamism is caught in a moment of vigorous complex thrusts, not merely latent in an heroic scale.

The considerable interest and significance of Howard’s work lies in the fact that among the current sculptors working in polychrome welded steel, few are as willing to face the difficulties of pneumatic, complex volumes of the intricate clarity that Howard likes. His imposition of form on the material goes rather farther than the wilting and bending of tubes, the crimped planes and ragged cuttings that have remained expressively viable only in the works of a few artists such as Robert Hudson. Howard’s purposes are more purely sculptural perhaps than those of the younger Hudson, as the kinds of allusions I have mentioned, inadvertent or not, go to demonstrate. When Howard gets one of his distinctive compositions well under way, its final form and identity will be exclusively within that sculptural notion which calls for the work to displace space before it does anything else, even before taking command of surrounding space to give it a characteristic artistic structure. That Howard easily manages this within his unique contemporary idiom is the measure of his interest and quality.

Dennis Adrian