Houston

Jesús Bautista Moroles

Davis/McClain gallery

Jesús Bautista Moroles is a master builder for a new Stone Age. His sculptures have a soaring lithic presence, like sectioned strata erupting from sunken chambers. Their surfaces are both rough and smooth; their edges jagged on one side, plumb-line straight on another. Light heightens their mass but erases their color when it strikes a polished finish. They often stream with water that comes from hidden sources within them. Moroles’ works have a strong architectonic character. Those that are monumental in size, such as Lapstroke, 1987, project a spatial ambience evocative of sacred precincts. But these pier forms and platforms have a concentrated self-sufficiency; they can’t be interpreted as modules (as could certain Minimalist sculptures) or as interdependent multiple units. Often subdivided by linear striations, they bear traces of totems and pillars, steles and panels, cairns and niches. Their formal perfection—clarity of contour and fastidious finish—is nearly always thwarted by the intrusion of breaks, radical cuts, or irregularly chipped surfaces. They seem rooted in the past but at home in the present.

Though many of Moroles’ works resemble Constructivist sculptures, his material and treatment is not Modernist. Twentieth-century sculpture has been based largely on improvisation, open form, industrial materials, and fabrication, rather than traditional casting and carving. Moroles’ about-face is based on an avidity for granite and an enthusiasm for the sheer difficulty of shaping this hardest and most intractable of materials. The results are best experienced in a one-person exhibition such as this one, in which the quarry itself is invoked, with its own man-made terraces and blocky promontories. A sense of the potency of stone, of tectonic plates shifting, predominates, giving evidence of the molten activity that creates granite. In Zig Zag Las Mesas, 1986, Moroles drills through vertical blocks in a tiered series of cuts, shaping an interior spine that curves or zigzags contrapuntally to its rectilinear borders. In Interlocking, 1988, he aligns two tall posts cut with vertical crenellations, which when slid together resemble a quoined pier.

But Moroles makes his strongest objects when his sources are more ancient, when he looks to lost civilizations whose precincts have eroded and even subsided into the landscape. A sense of prehistory pervades much of the current work, beginning with two tall pylons through which one enters the exhibition, Vanishing Edge #1 and Vanishing Edge #2, both 1988. Zigzag edged, they’d mesh if stood together, and that incipient movement is almost palpable. In Granite Weavings, 1988, three rusticated friezes are set into a wall-based structure, like archeological remnants from a venerated temple. At the rear of the gallery is Texas Wedge, 1988, a great craggy mound with double V-shaped niches cut into its polished facade. And in the center of the room, hugging the floor, is a small stepped pyramid, Ziggurat Landscape, 1988, one angled corner cracked away, as if crumbled and decaying. Moroles’ technical command and ambitious virtuosity sometimes results in work that appears precious or simply decorative. If he can resist the urge toward too great a refinement, his work is likely to achieve a haunting durability.

Joan Seeman Robinson