A series of exhibitions at Messums Wiltshire this spring showcases the practices of four artists all currently residing in North America whose work embraces different mediums, predominantly paint, glass, clay and steel.
While the practice of painter John Walker, glass-maker Dante Marioni, ceramic artist Linda Sormin and metalwork sculptor Albert Paley are diverse in their chosen mediums of expression, they share distinct commonalities of approach. Inviting the viewer to experience, engage and respond through the physicality and drama of the work’s presence, all four artists resolutely push and challenge the boundaries of their chosen mediums. Aspects of cultural identity, cultural exchange, personal and shared histories filter through the work, as does a sense of place, and a compositional sense of placement.
The sophisticated glassmaking practice of Dante Marioni is rooted in the great history of Italian glassmaking and the Murano tradition, taking inspiration from the Venetian glass master Lino Tagliapietra who was central to the international exchange of glassblowing processes and techniques between America and his native Italy. Marioni’s presentation and framing of groups of his glass works create a dynamic interplay of colour, shape and form.
The sculptural gates and fences produced by internationally renowned metalsmith Albert Paley share this sense of spatial linearity, their design synonymous with Art Nouveau style. Paley has responded to the built environment and the natural landscape in cities across America creating monumental site-specific sculptures that invite human engagement through their dominant presence. Scale and construction are important factors here, as shared in the triptych and series paintings of John Walker, and the site-specific installations of Linda Sormin.
Through the medium of paint, John Walker engages viscerally with the environment and cultural histories of North America and Australia, two countries in which he has chosen to live and work. Walker’s employment of distinctive shape motifs in his work, for example the ‘Alba’ vertical shape inspired by Goya’s ‘Duchess of Alba’, embody a figurative presence within his abstract pictorial language. In their ambiguity and enigma, the
works invite a multiplicity of responses, referencing abstraction, the art of the past, his environment, and the context of his cultural engagement, for example, his response to the aboriginal art of Australia and Oceania.
Linda Sormin embraces her own complex cultural heritage through ceramics, sculpture and site-responsive installation, unconventionally combining clay with found objects, found stories, detritus and glazes to express themes of fragility, aggression, upheaval, survival and change. In the complex linear network of her assemblage pieces and structural installations, Sormin invites the viewer to walk through, around and under the work to experience its captivating theatrical presence.
The manipulation of their chosen material by each of these artists reflects a deep technical knowledge of its mechanical ability and the awareness of the transformative power of the hand to impart meaning and beauty at scale. They engender viewer engagement and response while exploring authenticity of expression through materiality.
Dr Claudia Milburn