Sculptor Albert Paley
World-renowned forged steel sculptor Albert Paley shows his work in Big Sur.
Thursday, March 27, 2003
Albert Paley''s forged and fabricated steel works rise from their bases with restless energy, like Art Nouveau tendrils charged with Hephaestus''s force. Bands of metal spiral up, shafts twist, and errant "leaves" curl and bend away from the upward thrust. One marvels at both the aesthetic effect and technical feat: Paley has conjured plant forms and the verve of growth, a sense of becoming, out of the most rigid material in an artist''s palette.
An exhibition of Paley''s recent work, comprising furniture and small sculptural pieces, opens this Saturday at the Hawthorne Gallery in Big Sur.
Paley is an internationally recognized master of forged and fabricated steel sculpture and architectural metalwork. With many public and private commissions nationwide in both idioms, the artist has illustrated a mind-boggling versatility, as well as a protean creativity.
The breadth of his oeuvre is impressive. There is the aforementioned Art Nouveau-inspired decorative art, and monumental public sculptures of formed and fabricated steel, as well as an array of sculpture, large and small, featuring ribbons, bands and planes of steel, bronze, copper, weathered steel and painted steel. In all, boldness and a baroque vitality mark every turn.
"People often refer to my work as inspired by Art Nouveau, but really there are many more sources," Paley says. "Celtic linear forms, elements of Islamic design, and Oceanic art are just a few. But Art Nouveau is the familiar term. It''s the organic component that''s important to me, the interrelationship of forms. There are similar sensibilities found elsewhere, mine are just expressed differently."
Paley came to sculpture from jewelry making. In the late 1960s, he had achieved wide recognition for his brooches, fibulae, pins, bracelets, pendants and rings that stood as sculptural marvels as well as body ornamentation. He took jewelry from the realm of fashion accent to a place of bombastic personal statement: body art. In this work he exhibited an acclaimed virtuoso technique that combined styles and precious materials with an irrepressible inventiveness.
In 1973 Paley won a competition for the commission of the portal gates for the Renwick Gallery of the National Museum of Art, Smithsonian Institute, in Washington, D.C. After that triumph, the sculpture that had up to then been a sideline of his creative work took center stage. He moved into an industrial space, trained assistants, and began a sculptural journey.
Paley''s techniques were those he learned from turn-of-the-20th century books or from septuagenarian retirees who had worked with the materials. What followed has been a remarkable exploration of his chosen material, with the master artist guiding his workshop through the vicissitudes of a roller-coaster economy, demanding clients, and federal and city bureaucracies.
"The fundamental basis of the whole thing is the problem-solving, finding the unique form for the solution, developing the process to create the three-dimensional form in sculpture, furniture, architectural metalwork. I draw on all periods of art history, I engage with all of it. It''s a personal quest, a personal unleashing," reflects the artist.
His quest has to date resulted in countless national and international exhibitions, fellowships, grants and awards. Major museums purchase his work; his public sculpture dazzles and entertains those who experience it.
"In public sculpture, I search for the ability of the form to solicit the emotions appropriate to the site," he says. "I have to consider the viewing space, the architectural scale and size, all the formal elements. Then there is the human element, the pedestrian. How does it engage the viewer? How will the viewer see it in relationship to everything else? How does it humanize that experience, enrich that pedestrian experience?"
Viewers at the Hawthorne Gallery will not see Paley''s monumental sculpture, but certainly all the same elements are in full force in the tables, lamps, stands, and small sculptures that are on exhibit there. The physical presence and bursting energy of all these pieces make the term "furniture" seem feeble. A Paley lamp may shed light, but its other qualities raise it to the level of fine art.
Recently, Paley has worked with the glass artists at Pilchuk, the workshop founded in Washington State by Dale Chihuly in the 1970s that since has become the nation''s premier laboratory for glass art and design.
"Pilchuk has an artist-in-residence program where they invite artists from outside the glass field," Paley explains. "The purpose is twofold. One, it lets outsiders experience the medium, and, two, it allows them to get a fresh perspective from those outsiders. They gave me technicians to execute my designs. I''ve recently incorporated glass into some of my sculpture, which adds to the complexity of the work."
Several of these glass and steel pieces are on view at the Hawthorne Gallery, the largest repository and dealer of Paley sculpture west of the Rockies. Like the plastic magic of forged steel, molten glass has its fluid/frozen drama glistening and reflecting. By combining the two, Paley has entered yet another stage of personal invention in his quest.
An exhibition of Paley''s work opens March 29 at the Hawthorne Gallery in Big Sur. Paley will lead a walk-through at 2 pm; reception following. RSVP to 667-3200.