New York

John Stephenson

Royal Marks Gallery

John Stephenson makes his debut at the Royal Marks Gallery with an adroit group of aluminum and steel planes rhythmically bent or lapped into form. His work is involved with the articulation of continuous hard surfaces and “soft“ fluid spaces, rather than with the establishment of some single volumetric object or image. His thinking is more in line with the open, simple forms of Robert Murray’s work (some drawings by Stephenson point to solutions similar to Murray’s), than with the Judd/Morris attitude. Stephenson uses long metal ribbons with rounded ends (giant flexible tongue depressors), or lozenge-shaped sheets of aluminum, which he coaxes up from the floor or out from the wall into delightful loops, wiggles, and swells. Usually one surface exposes the burnished or shiny metal, while the other is coated with a bright-colored acrylic lacquer. Not all of the pieces are as quirky and playful as Jellico, which worms off the wall onto the floor, although Jayne, an elliptical disc which is curved into a mouth-like ripple and sprayed with a candied make-up pink, pushes this humorous anthropomorphic aspect of Stephenson’s work a little too far towards mere novelty. Waco, similar in conception and shaping to Jayne, has both greater gravity and a more effective scale than the latter. It exhibits some ambiguous and quite interesting spatial relationships, despite a pat regularity which mars certain other of the works shown. A dark green painted plane appears, on one level, as a flat plate moving at a diagonal to the floor—but it is interrupted along its diameter by a depression which actually supports the piece as it withdraws from its major visible surface. This contradicts the unbroken, planar continuity which the eye is led to accept at first.

Hobart, made of naturally rusted corten steel, is the most chaste, yet irregular work, but it is also the most successful, for its gentle asymmetrical push, and for its subtly fashioned 16-foot long extension. Here the single swell gradually slides up from the floor, somewhere past the middle of the strip, then abruptly descends, hugging the ground surface and pushing back down into it with more weight and tension than is felt in other similar but more repetitive pieces, such as Bogart. In this work, the gravitational regularity (or monotony) of three equal bulges is manipulated in a less inventive manner. What is perhaps the most apparent defect in an otherwise promising group of works is the extent to which color is a gratuitous, or at least distracting, embellishment. This is a common problem in much current sculpture—but the beauty of Hobart’s unfinished surface (combined with the vigor of its formation) is proof of what Stephenson can accomplish without the use of this polychrome skin.

Emily Wasserman