Los Angeles

Jay Willis

Cirrus Gallery

Jay Willis’ stacked, gently curved vertical sculptures have a cheerful exuberance sustained by every aspect of his work. Bright primaries and pastels on flat surfaces intentionally fragment his tall slender forms into free-floating planes accented by the sharp unpainted aluminum edges of each part. Recalling the precarious, improbable weighting and balancing of David Smith’s “Cubi” series, 1961–65, these tipped and joined elements pull the viewer around their animated configurations.

Willis’ roots are in the work of Smith and Anthony Caro, and in the pristine painted metal sculpture of Donald Judd. Instead of pursuing minimalist mass, stasis, and machined leanness of form, Willis risks being playful and anticlassical, even entertaining. These are not weighty, self-important pieces but gentle ones which fulfill their own program.

Suggesting the interdependent verticals of trees in a forest or the contrapposto of a human figure, Willis’ new sculpture maintains its open-ended identity as abstract form. Vital enough to require color, movement, and metaphor, disciplined enough to sustain a refined, condensed formal presence, the pieces strike a rich, precarious balance. A Californian at mid career, Willis has been working with a variety of sculptural media for at least a decade. This is undoubtedly his best work to date, and it is a healthy sign that the larger pieces are even more satisfying than the enchanting small ones.

Susan C. Larsen