Stuart Fink’s Shape to Shape at Brazee Street Studios’ gallery One One bristles with energy, mostly dispenses with narrative (who needs it?) and includes paintings as well as sculpture. Best known as a sculptor, Fink studied to be a painter and never really gave it up. Two- and three-dimensional works co-exist in each of the two rooms given over to his work, a lively if subliminal conversation busy between them.
The artist told me a few years ago that he’s interested in “an image you can return to, that leaves open a selection of various shapes, sort of a narrative but a broad, broad footprint. … So this kind of glyph became something that doesn’t necessarily have a narrative but deals with outreach, with different kinds of shapes opposed to each other, with a lot of energy.” He added, “I’m old and grumpy so I don’t particularly care if everyone can see this. It satisfies me, and I’ve reached the age where that’s what counts.”
Fourteen wooden sculptures stand on bases in the initial gallery, some chunky and some airy, none much more than 2 feet tall. They are intricate in the extreme, half circles becoming a series of small arches, squares and cubes morphing into stranger shapes, dowels at work to anchor all this elegant interaction. The material, pale and clean-looking, is dimensional poplar cut to quarter-inch, half-inch or three-quarter inch pieces and bought at standard supply stores. It’s a safe bet that the ends Fink puts his purchases to are not those of other customers.
In the smaller room beyond are four bronze sculptures, in which the same shapes take on other, somewhat different aspects.
They are bulkier, more serious. A certain lightness of mood seen in the wooden works isn’t apparent in the bronze, but neither medium is used for playful ends. Fink himself has said his sculptures are aggressive. Their vitality is real, their intense preoccupation with shape against shape consuming. Although he has sometimes given titles to his works, at least most if not all of those in this show are without specific names. This leaves interpretation fully up to the viewer and allows the sculptor himself to concentrate on his basic interest, the interaction of one shape to another.
That same interest dominates the two-dimensional works, with a new element added. What happens to a color when it’s thrown against another color? I’m uncertain if Fink works with an extensive palate or if it just appears to be, because the same color looks one way against, say, avocado green and another way if the background is orange. Or red. Or maybe brown. Whatever the color, it prances through the seven-piece “Marx” series, frequently in the form of letters presented backward and forward and stretched and split.
The “Marx” series is executed in fluid acrylic paint on heavy watercolor paper. The paint has a wholly different aspect than watercolor as it doesn’t have that transparency. Another series, called “Floater,” is carried out in colored pencil with delicate color, sharp lines and prominent white areas. My notes for “Floater” say “squiggle shapes,” not an art crit term but descriptive.
Also in colored pencil are two facial studies for his “Headed Somewhere” series. Three works from that series are seen in the first gallery, carried out in the fluid acrylic of the “Marx” works. The people of the colored pencil studies along with others are passengers in a jimcrack conveyance no sensible person would step into to ride down the block, but these passengers are intent on whatever their destination might be. Full disclosure: another of the “Headed Somewhere” series hangs on my own wall, a gift from the artist in return for writing an essay for a book about his work. It hangs where I see it easily from my computer, and I look at it frequently while searching for the right word. It doesn’t help much in the search for the word, but provides a welcome respite.
Several years ago Fink was struck with the illness called Guillain-Barre syndrome, seriously affecting his peripheral nervous system. Hand trembles make painting difficult; he solves that by painting with Q-tips. Sculpture has scaled down from his big outdoor works (see Kadetz Fountain (1993) at Piatt Park and Race Street downtown) and requires new techniques but retains its verve. Shape to Shape is his first show in five years and is a welcome return.
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