This winter the Frederick Baker Gallery in Chicago presented a solo exhibition by sculptor Gary Weisman. Weisman’s bronzes—mostly nude figures and animals—are notable for their energetic musculature and rich, patinated surfaces. Some works, such as the beefy torso Center, Male (24˝ high), have the look of antique fragments, with an earthiness more Roman than Greek. River God (8.75˝ high) is another torso, reclining this time, that follows classical precedents, although dispensing with the customary attributes. Weisman’s choices in titles, however, often emphasize distilled emotions or universal human qualities, rather than illustrating specific mythological scenarios. Frequently, a simple verb glosses the gestural rhetoric. The female nude of Intend (23˝ high) is a twisting flame of yearning. The figure balances cross-footed on a narrow base. A similar narrow shape defines Deny (18” high), but here the nude wraps her arms around her head protectively.
Many of the pieces are on an intimate scale, but Eve and the Separation (62˝ high) is an outdoor work and one with Gnostic implications. Eve takes off from her tiny base vigorously, twisting and soaring like a dancer, liberated rather than betrayed by knowledge. In contrast, the tiny Cocytus, River of Wailing (5˝ high) is a stranded fragment of body, lying poignantly prone and headless rather than rising vertically. Weisman’s horses are especially splendid, referring not to Western classicism but to the stout, expressive animals of Chinese art. Reach (14˝ high) is a thoroughly original take on the one-raised-leg trope of traditional equestrian monuments. Weisman’s riderless horse is wild, not domesticated, a creature of totemic vigor. The animal’s three remaining legs are triangulated into a tight space. He seems ready to rear, his alert head turning on the massive neck. The metallic sheen and green patina of the surface gives his flanks a polished glow. The equine form is even more dramatic in Extend (28.5˝ high). The body from inquisitive snout to rump is all velvet muscle, while the four legs are folded into a tight, dynamic lope. Weisman is adept at deploying contrapposto. The armless, headless figure in Seeing Ourselves (18˝ high) is anchored by a wing-like base but swivels like the columns in Bernini’s baldacchino at St. Peter’s.
Weisman, who has been on the faculty of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts since 1986, is a meticulous craftsman involved in every stage of the laborious process of creating his sculptures. He built his own foundry to melt and pour bronze. Emulating Rodin, he models his figures in clay from the Seine River, mixing it in 700-pound batches, or for more malleable material, he uses his own formula of plastiléne, composed of clay powder, oil and wax. In casting his sculptures, he uses the complex lost wax process to fashion his molds. After the molten bronze cools, he grinds, chases, sands and polishes. His distinctive patina is achieved with chemicals and heat. These difficult steps remain in the background, however, when the viewer confronts the works, which balance weight and delicacy, formal comeliness and pure emotion, they are also intensely physical presences, solid and form and sensuous in color. Frederick Baker Gallery, 1230 West Jackson Boulevard, Chicago, Illinois 60607. Telephone (312) 243-2980. On the web at www.frederickbakerinc.com
American Arts Quarterly, Winter 2004, Volume 21, Number 1.