Tom Sayre

Watson de Nagy Gallery

Tom Sayre works in the constructivist tradition. He uses straight-cut steel plate and cylinders welded together, rather than complex visual shapes as in the work of someone like Peter Reginato. Within this straightforward format he is exploring problems of balance and the relation of shape to space. An occasional edge demands attention because of its worked form, as in Good News, the largest piece in his recent show.

The complexity of Sayre’s sculpture is based on weight, counterweight, support and thrust, but in a visual sense; he is not so concerned with actual gravity. Some of the pieces are more akin to machines than to the elegance of welded steel sculpture. At times there is an overpowering build-up of volumetric forms interacting in space.

Partly because of the lighter appearance of the materials, the smaller pieces in the show are more compelling than the large ones. The smaller size allows more experimentation.

Mystic reaches more daringly into space, Saturn has aggressively repeated planes. The larger pieces, of several sizes, have a distinctive muscular energy, but there is a sense of restraint that leads to heaviness. His forms really work at times, but there is a lot of compressed energy that Sayre doesn’t seem to let go.

Comparing Sayre’s work to Surls’ demonstrates that Texas sculpture is not headed in any single direction. Surls’ work tends to be identified with some kind of Texas environment; Sayre relates to the international tradition of welded steel (and thus has more ghosts to chase). That Surls is a much better known and established artist (he recently organized a huge survey of Texas art called “Fire” for the Houston Contemporary Arts Museum and had his work in the Whitney Biennial) might be not only because he is a more developed artist (which he is), but because he produces what people expect to find in Texas. It is virtually impossible to characterize welded steel as “Texas,” but Sayre is certainly not the only artist working in that material here.

Susan Platt