Jene Highstein

Galeria Comicos

In his recent show, Jene Highstein presented two sculptures and a series of drawings. The sculptures are part of a set of around fifteen pieces that Highstein has been producing in Portugal since 1989. Highstein began by selecting a series of marble blocks according to previously defined critera. Then he gave them a certain orientation by defining the side which would be the base. Finally, he adapted the shape to his intentions by hewing away certain areas and building up others with inlaying. The degree of transformation of the initial shape of the stone may be more or less marked, and in some cases only very slight, but the very selection of a certain block of marble implies that it is accepted as a formal matrix, in relation to which adjustments are then made.

In his text for the catalogue, Highstein talks of his own method of exploring the possibilities of the meaning of sculpture. “Can this limestone block be turned into an abstract sculpture which embodies a contemporary notion of how we see now and how we saw in the distant past?” The author explains the importance of the drawing and the relationship between drawing and sculpture in his work. Drawing is “a way of thinking about sculpture,” “a way of looking at the possibilities.” For a drawing to be successful—and here we come across a formulation that is very close to that which we might apply to his sculptures—it must connect “the strength of its presence and the projection of an idea.”

The two sculptures presented here are openly characteristic of the artist’s work. On the one hand, the presence and value given to the naturalness and essential properties of the raw material, and its particularities, is evident. The color and texture of the stone, its veins and grain, the shape of the original block itself, and the marks of its processing remain visible. But at the same time there is an adjustment and a redefinition of the shape, a manipulation and moulding of the surface, which marks it with a human presence, the artist’s hand, and opens the semantic field of every sculpture to a wide range of references and resonances. However, this opening is not in the direction of complication nor of the accumulation of heteroclitic references. On the contrary, at the base of each stone he always opts for clarity and formal simplicity. Obliquely, they evoke primordial archetypes, suggested by the memory of objects that range from prehistoric artifacts to the most varied examples of ancient sculpture or pottery.

The capacity to combine the valorization of nature with the human, to marry formal simplicity with evocative power, is one of the principal characteristics of Highstein’s work. The achievement of this balance comes from the capacity to generate a force of maximum presence, through a perfectly homogenous physical mass, but whose suggestive and referential richness is permanently deferred. That is, always present, and insurmountable, but able to move in accordance with the observer’s movements. Highstein’s sculptures maintain a certain “lightness” despite their great physical density. It is the ultimate sense of the form which remains, as if floating in the air, because of how it is shaped and is located in space.

Alexandre Melo

Translated from the Portuguese by David Prescott.