Vol. 24 No. 10
In “Slowly Growing Things,” Graham Caldwell’s self-styled search for the “bones of the invisible” takes him to unexpected territory. The 16 sculptures, all from 2004, extend his elaborate systems of opaque steel armatures and shimmering blown glass in the shape of stomach pouches or teardrops. Two of the works on view pursue a familiar track. Gravity rules over Aquifer, in which a cascade of droplets in varying shades and sizes of arctic blue glass hangs elegantly from a network of metal hooks and evokes a cross between a giant pendant and a capillary system. Interversalis goes even further in reverse force. Here, a constellation of crescent=shaped red glass tubes seems to float from multiple points on the ceiling, cutting into the viewer’s space and reflecting off the adjacent walls.
The remaining works branch off into new directions. Indeed, the first thing that comes to mind when viewing Cirsus (the Latin term refers to dilated veins) is a branch cut into five segments. Unlike its companions, this form is open-ended and hollow, allowing air to flow through it and suggesting that it could go on indefinitely. It also differs in the use of seriality instead of accumulation or accretion for its main compositional principle. By contrast, all of the elements in Outgrowth and Bloom emerge and project directly from the wall. In Outgrowth, the slightly menacing nest of steel-gray glass tentacles or antlers is a trophy fit for Poseidon, while Bloom’s exuberant bouquet of burgundy-red-orange blossoms with white, trumpet-shaped stems evokes the mod/sci-fi film classic Barbarella. The relation of sculpture to wall turns paramount in A Few Things and Pillows. Both works feature colonies of IV-like pouches arching out from metal skeletons at staggered distances, their translucency creating a wondrous mix of glossy distortions, shadowy shapes, and colored reflections.
Another body of work focuses on joinery and bifurcation. The Others stands out as one of the most graceful and streamlined. A contrapuntal study of flow patterns, it enacts a complex inter-looping and hinging of warm, earth-toned glass curls with similarly fashioned steel supports. This exhilarating sense of fluidity assumes an aquatic feel in a series of Prussian blue glass sculptures. Queen, for example, resembles something one might find while walking on the beach or snorkeling underwater. The density of the solid glass structure and its ridged contour suggest algae.
With Soon, Caldwell is willing to see what happens when a sculpture foregoes its glass component altogether and focuses on the support as the basis for an entire installation. By far the most radical of Caldwell’s works to date, the piece playfully loops rubber and wire over a forest of metal rods, whose negative semi-circular shapes echo the positive crescent forms of Interversalis. Like and erector set or telephone poles gone wild, this dramatic arabesque connects a large portion of the main gallery, an adjoining corridor, and the corner of a gallery office.
Drawing on the natural world and the legacy of Eva Hesse, Caldwell elaborates an abstract language that results in evocative and individualized gestures. No matter how visceral the work, it preserves a sense of sinuous beauty that belies the difficulty of his craft. In his hands, precise engineering appears effortless, as does painstaking blowing, clipping, and pulling of molten glass. Idiosyncrasies appear here and there, only adding to the overall pleasure and complexity of expression. In Slowly Growing Things, the juxtaposition of mechanical steel armatures and organic glass tubes continues to be an engrossing source of experimentation, while Soon titillates the imagination with untold possibilities. Either way, Caldwell’s abstractions speak eloquently about interdependence and community as the reach out into the space and penetrate our inner psyche.