BWW Reviews: Bruce Sherman Studio Visit - The Artist, the Ceramicist and the Man by Barry Kostrinsky
Bruce Sherman: Studio Visit
The Artist, the Ceramicist and the Man
By Barry Kostrinsky
Glazes stacked high, draped clay, Bruce Sherman and I contemplating an early clay cup.
Photographs by Linda Obuchoska
Upon entering MOMA's exhibit of Claus Oldenberg's "The Store" and "The Street" with Bruce Sherman I quickly caught an image of a grouping of drawings and called Bruce over. He looked and immediately saw the connection and thanked me; Earlier that day we were in his studio looking at a group of his drawings. Now it would be big of anyone to claim their work is like that of a modern master (and indeed it was I and not Bruce that pointed out the connection) but the similarities were obvious.
Photograph by Linda Obuchoska
Sherman's grouping of 9 drawings reveal a similar line and form to Calder's wire sculptures as well. As artists we drink and draw from the source of the river, from that elegant but singular pool of thoughts and ideas. We all try and expand the deck and add a Jacuzzi but the core of art is buried deep in this pool. Inevitably when we reemerge from our deep dive there will be overlap and restatements.
The group of drawings I had seen earlier at Bruce's revealed a light soft hand apparently guided by a dreamlike ethos open and free to what was notched and noted just before on the page. This was not the work of planned and prepared controlled art that you could hand off to an assistant to finish. These drawings are works that evolve organically from the source: an aspiring selfless self. They are reflective of the delicate and complex nature it takes in our barrage driven image world to be free and open to seeing without guiding, to making without declaring and to creating without pontificating.
Photographs by Linda Obuchoska, books photographed by BK
The creative hand, the man and the mind that layers the work. Picasso-"Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life." Gurdjieff says this dust hits your snooze button and we are mostly in a "Waking Sleep." "The Work" is often about braking this waking sleep.
Oldenberg's Blue Legs 1961- plaster and mixed media relief like constructions and Sherman's slab rolled constructions pieces pre bisque are visual aligned. Bruce draws in the mixed colored clays. He lays out a few lines to hint at form much as Claus's work does. This economy of form is one of the marks of a great artist. The ability to reduce form to its essential elements is not unlike a poet's efforts to distill the essence of thoughts and ideas in a frugal use of language so as not to detract the reader from the deeper real.
Photograph by Linda Obuchoska
Oldenburg's 1960 Flag to hold in your pocket and Sherman's 2012 Ceramic box with glaze.
A random constellation like effect and feel yields a serene and intriguing field of random minutia play in both works. The two works read well viewed both as if from afar as a Macro large scale portal to deep space and universes and as a Micro small scale close peer revealing a crackle like disordered kaos that smells of a deeper order. Bruce's recent drawings investigate visual similar themes developed on his ceramic surfaces.
Bruce's drawings on a black background photographed by Linda Obuchoska and two Aboriginal works. Bottom right-28,000 year old Aboriginal rock art.
The recent series of drawings Bruce has been working on involve fascinating constellation like dot and line dreamlike evoking images evolved from a meditative and free walking mind. Often Bruce works in the morning, when he is just up and not yet wearing his self-suit. He hopes to enter the work free, unbounded and open to the universe. Sherman appears to tap into a similar form Aboriginals reach in their inner trance-like search through art. Though they were penned over 10,000 Miles away and almost 30 millennia of time between the spaces, Sherman dove deeply to link with these distant brethren.
Photograph by Linda Obuchoska
Picasso's figures on the seashore 1931 and Sherman's recent series of small pink clay forms. Picasso's work devolves from the form and Sherman's work evolves toward. Though Bruce works on a small scale in his pink fired constructions they seem to read as maquettes, as studies for larger works and forecast a larger form. They are not studies and very much are just what they are, small works of compositional play.
Photographs by Linda Obuchoska
Sherman's clay work has an organic feel. The forms seem to be almost happening as if they were created softly, developed by a soft hand reaching for the form to reveal itself and not to be ordered and directed. The material is often slab left overs, remnant rogue clay not fashioned for play this way or that, a gap in the note, a space for the music. Bruce slips in and combines these forms to grow a piece of art and works with the space between the real, the space between the notes to get at a deeper meaning and a deeper sighting of the real. He is not adverse to functionality and enjoys making vases, bowls and plates; he likes the real usage, the utilitarian nature of the art object.
Paul Klee's "Comedian's Handbill" 1938 and Joan Miro's "The Poetess" 1940
Bruce see's Surrealism and Dada as the two most prominent influences on the young creative minds of today. Personally, he finds a kinship with Miro and Klee. Their dot and line play and conjured worlds bring to mind Sherman's drawings on black. Klee and Miro create a somewhat flat geometric pattern; Klee's recalls Egypthian hyroglipics and forehsadows Keith Haring. Both artistis use of flattened geometric compositional elements gives their work a quilt-like crafts feel. Craft is not a bad word even if you're a MAD Museum and got cut off the billboard.
The old American Craft Museum: one of the best second courses in days past when you would dine on pre-Meyer's cultural delights at MOMA across the street. Now at Columbus Circle as the Museum Of Arts and Design- M.A.D. Has she traded up, why or who is she mad at? A large part of Sherman's work is about craft. As a youth he made model airplanes, was happy to stay in doors during a rainy day and make things-quite content to create. As a dentist he honed a craft and a skill as a sculpture and carver of precious objects. Just try eating without teeth and you'll see how precious they are. Craft is about skill and art was originally all about skill. The conceptual override has been in effect ever since the champ pee'd on the art world with his ready-mades and a fountain of thought was sprayed all over the art world.
Duchamp's 'Fountain' 1917 and Sherman's Flag with teeth from the early 1960's; both works lightly layers meaning brightly and boldly on concrete iconic images gone amuck
Bruce was influenced as a youth and as a youthful man today still hears the voice of his friend and mentor Mr. William Segal who passed several years ago. Mr. Segal studied with Mr. D.T. Suzuki. Ken Burns studied with Mr. Suzuki and Mr. Segal and did three films on Mr. Segal.
Zen like teachings coat the way for these sears to hone their skills and be enveloped in their fields. Steven Jobs two biggest influences were his calligraphy class at college that gave him an appreciation for style and possibly friendly icons and images on a computer screen and the zen way he learned outside the classroom doorway that drove him to perfection through simplicity and simplicity through perfection.
For a word short like zen you sure get some long ones later.
Bruce mentioned the difference between Phenomenal and Nuomenal and I knew I'd have to use spell check and get googling. I can't do Kant but here goes:
The Nuomenal World is the 12 slice oversized pizza you can't order, it does not fit in the box, has undescribable toppings and is delivered anytime at random whether you are hungry or not.
The Phenomenal world is more like the 7 slices pie you regularly get delivered for an extra $2 that slips a bit in the box and leaves you wondering who got the other slice. Either way six slices is usually enough for me with a good movie. Godel's Incompleteness theorem rears its head high-gaps in knowability-beware: Bummer for the rationalists.
If Pizza doesn't do it for you maybe this can simplify things.
As a bonus if it is made in copper and tin it is capable of brewing alcoholic coffee when properly maintained.
It all made sense and linked with Bruce's sense of play to open the door and enter without walking as he creates and is and is not.
Mr. Sherman's series of ceramic plates with images of kids gone a rye is both funny and somewhat sacrilegious. The images are manipulated from children's drawing books and offers us the most innocent of innocent, little kids, doing perverted sexual favors and bargaining with each other. McCarthy at the Armory enters into this world of all is not right in Wonderland. However Bruce seems to make the statement as poignantly without the need to go large and to be the king of Disneyland.
Sherman has recently exhibited at some very respectable galleries including Marianna Boesky and Fitzroy Gallery in NY and Sarah Gavlak's in Florida.
Bruce has been writing fictitious reviews of imagined art exhibitions that are brilliant and compelling. These lovely signet like snipets are imbued with a world of reflection on the art world wittingly and wisely.
Vito Acconcii's word covered building and Tim Rollins and K.O.S., By Any Means Necessary (after Malcom X), 2007 Photo: Stefan Altenburger Photography Zurich
Sherman has laid out bisque and glazed letters over 10 feet of grass to make word poems in the land, layered earthworks screaming the predominance of words in art as seen in both Vito Acconci's and Tim Rollin's reflection of revealing current trends.
Bruce described by Scott Cummings in the 70's as a "dentist who would rather be a potter" with Marty Ravitsky in the East Village.
Whether you think of Dr. Bruce Sherman as your one time Dentist, a leader in forming Dental PPO's in the 1980's, a teacher, a potter, an artist or just Bruce you are lucky, lucky to know him. For all we do and say is not life best judged (if we must or can tally the score) by the joy, the warmth, the understanding, the compassion the beauty and the growth and love we bring to the minds of others? Money is important in life but the real Dough you need must be you, home spun deep in your soul. Bruce is guilty of delivering all of this in a smile, a chat and a simple open warm look into your eye.
Does that make him an artist? No, but it's a good start. The doctor thing probably ain't a bad thing either. Usually I see Dentist turned artists that are very tight miniscule minded craftsmen creating impressively skilled but minimally creative artworks in their leisure. Bruce's work is soft handed, the spirit is trying to not be there, to let the work make itself, to be a guiding or opening hand at best through materials lovingly absorbed over years of communion with nature and the wonderment of being alive. It is all the best in craft without all the negative press.
As I finish this article Vincent is screeching in the background in "Lust for Life." I hear Van Gogh quote an early proponent of the crafts movement rather enthusiastically, " Blessed is that man who has found his work." Is this just a plea to get the masses moving and the commercial industrial machine a producin or is this a call for you to find your real work and to tend your garden?
'It is important to know viscerally that I exist at this moment.'
Special thanks to Linda Obuchoska for her photographic work and friendship