John McCracken & Eva Hesse

September 2009

Publication: The Times

John McCracken - Inverleith House, Edinburgh

Eva Hesse: Studiowork - Fruitmarket Gallery

 

The American artist John McCracken first came to prominence in the early ‘sixties as his work progressed through various forms of abstraction until, later in that decade, it took the form largely in which it appears here. Experimenting first with ‘gestural’, ‘patchwork’ and geometric abstract painting, McCracken then moved on to relief sculpture and the monochromatic works with which he is identified now.

 

McCracken’s forms are bold, colourful, carefully crafted – and arresting. They take the form of large, vertically-oriented, highly polished fibreglass blocks which stand around eight feet high. They have a presence which is at once mystifying but deeply absorbing. They provoke questions and demand answers. To what do they relate? What are they about? What do they ‘mean’? McCracken has commented that colour itself is the ‘material’ with which he works and which holds his deepest interest. That colour is in itself an abstract entity only serves to heighten the intrigue.

 

Assessing and understanding McCracken’s approach necessitates placing him in the overall context of American abstraction and, in particular, the dynamic experimental milieu of the Los Angeles art world of the 1960s. McCracken’s contemporaries included figures such as Donald Judd, Carl Andre and Frank Stella – all of whom were highly innovative and often controversial exponents of various types of abstraction.

 

McCracken’s work here, most of which has been made in the current decade, has been given titles such as ‘Spaceway’, ‘Stardust’, ‘Lust’ and ‘Ray’. This nomenclature offers a partial but useful inroad to his thinking in that the sculpture relates in part to light. Light and colour are inextricably linked and his use of bright primary colours, as well and black – and white – allows the highly polished surfaces to act as efficient reflectors. The works appear to resonate with luminosity and ‘energy’.

 

 

 

 

McCracken has stated that his influences also include the shiny paint jobs on custom cars and even surfboards. Like any abstract artist his work needs an in-road but once this has been established, the terrain of his thought opens up rewardingly.

 

Eva Hesse, who died in 1970 at the tragically young age of 34, created a body of work which in volume and maturity belied her youth. Since her death Hesse’s reputation has grown enormously and she now stands as one of the pre-eminent figures in twentieth century art.

 

Here a collection of what has been labelled her ‘Studiowork’ reveals some of Hesse’s working practice and offers insights into her larger scale and better known work. Previously these small, hand-made works were termed ‘test pieces’ but they have also been variously referred to, in various sub-categories, as studies, models and prototypes.  Her friend, mentor and fellow artist Sol LeWitt has also denied the status of some of exhibits as art works at all.

 

Whatever the terminology used to label these mysterious, corporeally resonant, disquieting objects, they are nevertheless, important artefacts which help to add weight and substance to the growing interest in and understanding of Hesse’s oeuvre.

 

For Hesse, the material from which she fashioned her work was as important as the ideas it conveyed; indeed form and substance are bound so closer together that they cannot be meaningfully separated. Using latex, cord, papier mâché, cheesecloth and a host of objets trouvés these objects form a vocabulary of experimentation and artistic evolution. As such they are the physical manifestations of working, creative thought.

 

 

Many are frail and subject to the same temporally defined decay as the body itself, to which they refer and, to some extent, portray. Many resemble body parts, fragments of the self, suggesting blood, skin and even hair. As such they inhabit the uneasy hinterland between representation and suggestion.

 

A good number of these works are on public display for the first time. As such they represent an unmissable opportunity to experience the inner workings of a great and inventive mind.