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Gary Michael Dault

LeRoy and colour (1972)
Views on Hugh LeRoy's sculpture at the Waddington Gallery, Montreal,
June 14 - July 1, 1972

artscanada #169/170/171, early autumn 1972
[ 1,327 words ]


Hugh LeRoy is a sculptor of considerable talent. His new show at Waddington presents a number of new beginnings for the artist. Which new beginnings seem only partially successful some of the time, failures otherwise -for reasons I should like to discuss.

There is one impressive piece, Bird, a large, beautifully made, ellipsoid slab slung between two end supports, depending from a long hanging bar, growing out of the bar, in fact, like a large coagulating geometric globule gathering to a fullness and about to drop to the floor. The work is 30'long and 3'6' high. It is finished in bright red automobile laquer. It is so long and pendulous that it sways slightly in the middle if pushed by hand and would move similarly in the wind if installed out of doors. There is an exquisite fusion of ellipsoid slab and bending bar from which the slab seems actually to grow.

There are two other pieces in the show which are related to Bird but which are less successful. Bridge is a large structure of blue tubular vertical supports from which cables hold a long red horizontal slab; the slab is freely hung; it will move from side to side if you push it. In Lac Nantel, four chocolate brown tubular verticals support cables that suspend a handsome pink square horizontal slab inside the brown tubular frame, at a level of about one third of the height of the verticals.

Colour is important to LeRoy, one might as well say newly important. For a long time he worked pretty exclusively in white. Colour seemed frivolous to him, he says, whereas white gave him 'tremendous definition.' What bothered him about colour is that as a painter it frustrated him that 'so much colour died on the canvas,' never was it as high as colour in the tin. 'One of the things that kills colour for me is a lot of texture.' A number of the elements in the current pieces are tubular because for LeRoy the smooth tubular element was an element that could somehow 'take' colour, allow for its use within the artist's personal aesthetic. LeRoy's method of colour choice verges upon the mystical, mixed up somehow with the promptings of personal biology: 'The way I look at colour is to see a form as a coloured form; there isn't much decision after a while.' Not to build a form and to decide upon its colour, but to know that a form like such a one inevitably has to be a specific colour. The colour for Lac Nantel: 'I picked this one up out of nature . . . up north . . . with a pink sunset on the lake, the lake began to look like a plane ... a plane that would shift . . . '

Movement is important in LeRoy's sculpture. A moving lake becomes a shifting plane which becomes a horizontal slab hung from cables. An interesting aspect of the artist's interest in movement (and one which I have been quite unable to understand, I confess, except as a kind of the artist's personal poetry) is LeRoy's feeling that a little bit of movement enhances colour. The shifting of the plane of a northern lake seemed to 'heighten its colour.' The artist is not here discussing kinetic sculptural ideas. The horizontal red slab of Bridge, for example, is a more focused, more realized red when it sways slightly back and forth under its blue pylons. The pink slab of Lac Nantel is somehow, if I understand the artist correctly, a pink slab more substantially there when it moves slightly to and fro.

Why is Bird a successful piece when Bridge seems such a failure? The key to the difference lies I think in drawing. Bird is a very 'clarified' object; it has what might be referred to as an extraordinarily 'detachable' shape and presence, detachable, I mean, from whatever is around it. It is in many ways a quite ordinary and arbitrary piece of design and yet it comes off a fully rounded personally present thing, unique and memorable. One of the big problems with LeRoy's work is a pronounced tendency (so I feel it) to inertness in the finished work. His famous Four Element Column (1967) (Art Gallery of Ontario), is an example of this sort of formal exhaustion; regardless of its being the result of 'force-upon-form,' the cutting, the compression, and the twisting which are supposed to be the force operations which have distorted the piece into its presentable finished form are no more than an imaginary program. The thing is a solid fibreglass object and looks it. And it looks inert, I think, because of a lack of consideration on the artist's part to thickness and thinness of elements, to their lengths and widths in juxtaposition, to the entire idea of the dynamics of the linear. Bird, in contrast, is successful because it presents itself as a total package of dynamically right internal relationships of line to mass; in short, it seems to have begun as good drawing. The maquette for Bridge is a pleasant toy. The full-size piece unfortunately has the same trivial toy-like quality.

And so it would have were it ten times its present size. For the work has no scale, no dynamism of element with element. The move from model to finished piece means only that the piece gets bigger. Again, it seems to me that the problem is one with drawing. But whereas the Four Element Column is merely inert, Bridge has a kind of laughable (but not very likeable) sense of bathos about it. As I recall it, the blue verticals are substantial tubular things of constant diameter and larger in diameter, moreover, than the width of the red slab they support. This thickness and dogged unvarying quality of the superstructure of Bridge turns the red slab it supports into an anticlimax that just becomes amusing. More so when it moves. Beyond this the structure is dull and lifeless in its stolidity. Lac Nantel is prettier than Bridge and almost makes it on sheer glamour. Also it is almost a Constructivist prob-lem of interest, this hanging of a pink element down into a brown framing structure.

In addition to these three works, the show presented a number of examples of even newer work, work that I feel is perhaps the beginning of something of real interest but which seems too tentative at present to exhibit. The new pieces are the result of the artist's wish to make use of 'two kinds of information,' an opportunity 'to use a lot of things I knew about painting and things I knew about sculpture' in the making of individual pieces. The new pieces are fibreglass rectangles arched up from the floor and painted on the upper surface. They display LeRoy's growing sense of comfort with colour; the surfaces are in a sense very painterly, pastels usually, poured, marbled, intermixed, but hard coated, and tex-tureless: 'I thought if I could find a technique where I could use a wide open pouring of the paint but didn't have to cope with the texture, that would make me happy and also suit my sense of what the object is -which is (for me) essentially a smooth thing.' As I have said, I doubt that these objects are firmly enough a part of the artist's thinking to merit their exhibition yet.

There are numerous possibilities inherent in the work. Certainly something is happening. One admires LeRoy's new economy of means, his desire to make thin, lean unique things of high impact and new spatial inhabitings. At the moment, how-ever, the new pieces are uneasy mutations of cliché painting on an almost sculptural form. There is obviously work to be done.


artscanada #169/170/171, early autumn 1972


Text: © Gary Michael Dault. All rights reserved.

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