Odd materials go into a sculpture of odder shapes. Especially with tentative forays into regions of darkness peculiar to modernism. Although scrap metal is a favorite material of sculptors, and the welding gun the most necessary tool, they still have much in common with the medieval stone carvers whose cathedral gargoyles were an off-spring of sometimes similarly mixed marriage and high spirited union between the humorous and the sinister that produces its natural hybrid: the grotesque.
Fear of hell on one hand and rollicking gusto for life on the other produced the medieval gargoyles. For the most part, today we have ceased to believe in hell, although wishing it on someone is still common enough, and gusto tends to be in short supply. But there was a time when there existed what could be called the neo-gargoyle sculpture which was a kind of expression of contemporary fears plus a contemporary zest for experiment and speculation. The gargoyle never really went away, extinct, it just manifested itself differently; particularly as it was cited by Herbert Read in the 1950′s in hiss essay “Exorcising the Fear,” and the subsequent phrase, “the geometry of fear.”
All art being a process of the transformation of material into expression, the term junk sculpture need be no more derogatory than the term oil painting. Junk sculpture becomes art when it meets the terms that make other forms of sculpture “good” or “bad” art. By one general definition, classical in implication, art is the distillation of order and meaning from the chaotic material of human experience. By direct analogy, if the junk sculptor can take the chaotic detritus of the industrial age, machine age, and reassemble it into forms that have a satisfactory relationship to one another as an aesthetic whole, then they have indeed created a legitimate work of art from material- both physical ideological- afforded only by that period of time.
The classical premises of purity and order, however, are dubious ones for the defense of junk sculpture. But turn the junk sculptor loose on romantic premises and he has it made. The job of the romantic is not to purify but to intensify, not to resolve but to stimulate, not so much to answer but to ask, and when he does answer, to answer by implication rather than by definition. Suggestion, free association, experiment, revolt,even fortuitous accident, are their meat. And the romantic artist has always had an interest in the exploration of decay that makes one wonder why it took them so long to discover the junk heap as their happiest hunting ground.
These types of gargoyles based on ruined machinery suggest mangled and intermingled mutations of men,birds, beasts, and machines. These ruins are not reminders of the pat, but are deformed as if prophetically by the aberrations of science that may yet produce the ultimate holocaust or the Apocalypse. This is the hell that we cannot conceive of today, and some of the gargoyles seem already to have approached close enough to its terrible boundaries to have been broken, seared, and fused into forms such as individuals have never seen, but might one day see too much of.
But then again, it might not happen; just more old tricks of mental self-preservation: a large element of fun introduced into fearful conjectures. Again, the double barreled appeal of the gargoyle. Things are not good. And not a bad idea to prepare for the worst. But as these sculptures of the fifties reveal, it is a shaky crust we are treading upon, but it does have an interesting bounce to it.