New York

Robin Winters

Brooke Alexander

The human head provided the central figure in each of a series of independent installations and groupings of sculptures that comprised Robin Winters’ recent exhibition. Manufactured from such diverse media as bronze, glass, and ceramic, these works all either reference the head directly, or, as in the case of Pile of Crowns, 1989, suggest adornments for the head. As a sculptural base, the head serves as a conceptual foundation upon which Winters presents an array of “ideas” manifest in the form of various found or sculpted objects.

In Stop Look Listen, 1990, a tiny figure sprouts from the pate of an amorphously shaped head as did Athena from Zeus. From the emerging figure’s stout torso, enormous open hands extend upward on long arms. The hands resemble mittens, but with their thumbs awkwardly turned outward. The odd juxtapositions of scale and form that distinguish this work are muted by a simplification of features and a smooth unifying texture. Shorthand facial features—indentations for eyes and mouth, protrusions for nose, lips, and brow—are characteristic of Winters’ sculptural style and preserve the original quality of the waxen or plaster original from which this bronze edition was cast.

The facial expressions in Winters’ works are sometimes serene, and at other times grimacing. In each case, however, the heads are rendered in an impressionistic style where form emerges from the inert mass of bronze or glass in a manner that recalls the plaster and wax sculptures of Medardo Rosso. This effect is most evident in the single bronze heads that compose “Circle of Heads 1-11,” 1990, but it is characteristic of all the works in Winters’ oeuvre, including his childlike drawings on glass.

Winters’ deployment of the head as an armature is particularly convoluted in the colorful blown glass “The Val Saint Lambert Series (Testa Coronata)” (Crowned head, 1990). Collaborating with the Belgian glass factory of the same name, which specializes in the production of colorful blown crystal, Winters made molds of heads into which citrine colored glass was poured. The hollow heads are empty vessels like upside down vases, topped with hats of varying styles resembling berets, crowns etc. The styles of these hats are similarly derived from the art glass designs that typify the factory’s products. Hence, the glass factory provides Winters not only with materials but formal inspiration. The heads, themselves empty vessels, are crowned with other vases in witty combinations.

For Winters, the head is an arena, a place where multiple activities occur. This is the most evident in the totemic constructions of vertically stacked objects, which characterize the works from the “Sceptre Series,” 1990. Arranged in clusters upon bases of varying height, these works collectively take the form of a chorus. Individually, each small bronze totem is comprised of a vertical stack of shapes that sprout from a crudely rendered head. In one work, a caryatidlike figure stands on a smiling puttied, head which itself supports a thimblelike cap. Among these figures one can identify assorted objects, including a Christmas tree ornament, an African figurine, and a swan whose back is carved out and stuffed like a cornucopia.

Winters’ compositions are metaphorical compounds. The head is the foundation upon which Winters conjures meaning. The compression of objects into a totemic stack suggests a compilation of metaphors, the verticality of which mimics language’s associative axis. Each stack functions as a meaningful assembly that emphasizes no single unit but produces an array of associations. The head-forms are surrogates for the mind—the constellations in which ideas and potential connotations orbit. Winters’ exhibition of discrete installations captures the variety inside metaphor and preserves the nuance and freshness that a newly conjured idea evokes.

Kirby Gookin