David Kraisler

Heard Museum

If the Southwest is to overcome regional provincialism, it must demonstrate the existence of styles that are indigenous but that also address the concerns of advanced art. As a sculptor working with conventional problems of scale, mass, modulation of surfaces, and the like, David Kraisler has absorbed local topographical features, and particularly the unrelenting character of the Arizona light, to create concrete forms that are as specifically local as they are typically modern. He is a synthesizing artist, catching fragments of rock as pure shape, molding them (whether monumental or diminutive) into precarious equivalents which parallel nature’s structures, and scoring their sweeping surfaces as arenas for the play of light.

Sculpture that emerges from a symbiotic relationship with the environment works best in an enlarged scale. Kraisler’s preparatory models, executed in bronze with golden-brown patinas, are engaging and well-crafted, but they remain toylike in comparison with his larger work. They beg for full stature, for their suggestive spatial references to materialize and for their craggy forms to become truly aggressive, even menacing, by poking up and jutting out into space. Kraisler’s public sculptures (such as The Bridge in Scottsdale) are designed as site projects, incorporating the lay of the land as well as the scenic vistas that surround them; for this reason, too, the outdoor pieces outrank his indoor installations in impact. The large works are not inserted into nature as artificial emblems of human activity qua art, but are harmoniously integrative elements, iconic signs which link nature to culture, process to product.

A work, or rather maquette, on view in this show was the finished model for Hopi Project, which will be the largest environmental sculpture in Arizona, measuring 10-by-26-by-32 feet. This sharp-edged, ground-hugging sculpture is a “situational” piece, taking into account sun movement, sound or echo, and perspective, and fulfilling certain pre-established community requirements and assorted sociological considerations associated with its intended site at Third Mesa. Here sculpture sheds its art-for-arts-sake existence to become simultaneously quasi-architectural structure, esthetic playground, and conceptual event. Kraisler’s art is symptomatic of a new mood in the Southwest in which traditional material explorations (he has invented his own unique concrete-and-steel-mesh system of construction) are energized and renewed by a study of specific climatic and terrene conditions. This orientation toward the earth, fed by perceptual interaction with the spatial extension of the land and with the quotidian baths of bright, clear light, is being seen in the work of local and visiting artists alike, as they recast their priorities in more environmental directions.

Carol Donnell-Kotrozo