Write-ups and Critiques

A search for art's human side

The Sydney Morning Herald, February 14, 1986

Most sculpture has very distinct affinity with the human form. Even when a piece doesn't represent a figure, it is still meant to be examined by figures who relate to its scale and surface in any number of ways. Sculpture in the round confronts us with an alien presence; its disposition in the familiar gallery space counts for a great deal in how we read or experience a particular work.

At the Irving Sculpture Gallery, Dutch-born sculptor Adrian Mauriks has spent a long time arranging and rearranging his first Sydney show in search of the most sympathetic presentation.

The interest of Mauriks' sculpture falls into two distinct categories, which I'm tempted to call the metamorphic and the monumental. In the first case, with a piece called Dreamer II we are struck by the daring mixture of organic and constructivist forms and the suggestive nature of their interaction. Since the union is enacted on a long wooden table, one is reminded of the surrealists' favourite lines from Lautreaumont: "As beautiful as the chance encounter of an umbrella and a sewing machine on an operating table".

There is also a surreal element in the smoothly carved wooden shapes which arch over the centre of the work like the goddess of Egyptian mythology whose body formed the arch of the sky. These shapes look like they've been plucked from one of Tanguy's amorphous landscapes and slotted into a machine-like framework which echoes the rectangular dimensions of the gallery

Mauriks's Totem sculptures have a more monumental feel. It wouldn't take much to visualise these pieces blown up to a grand scale and used to adorn parks and similar public spaces. While there is presently much speculation about a sculpture park being part of the Darling Harbour Project, these Totems stake excellent claims for inclusion. They are simple in style, and respond well to the problem of how to create an abstract sculpture while still recognising a fundamentally human dimension. This is a popular formula for filling public spaces which often demand a universalised and democratic art.

The human side of these Totems acts like a negative key cut into the massive wooden blocks. Mauriks has chosen this oblique tactic to perhaps emphasise the spiritual aspects of the work over an all-too- solid material base. These pieces are very literally decentred since the middle has been cut from each work, coated in lead, painted with low-key coloured squares and relocated elsewhere in the gallery.

The cut-out shapes, outlined in bright red inside the solid wooden slabs, look much more alive and vibrant than the free-standing figures which appear as shrivelled as lead-jacketed mummies.

John McDonald, 1986