William Tucker (1978)

“William Tucker at the Sable-Castelli Gallery,” Artists Review (Toronto), 1:13 (April 3, 1978), pp. 2-3.

William Tucker at the Sable-Castelli Gallery

William Tucker has presented two wood and two steel sculptures and two drawings on wood—large scale mock-ups for sculptures—at the Sable-Castelli Gallery (March 11-25). All of the pieces investigate boundary in sculpture: on its simplest level as image, but at its most successful as the focus of the conjunction of support or structure, image, as well as the visual frame within the sculptural frame.

The Trap (1977) literally is a frame and was formed from the frame of a continuous metal pipe. Its original, basically trapezoidal, shape has been bent so that the frame also is its own support. The folding of the frame in space deforms that space (the fold is the ‘trap’ of the title), and the uneven sides force a perspectival thrust that energizes directional vision. Welded perpendicular to the frame are short hollow pipes. The pipes, through visual extension, form a field, within and paralleling the edges of the frame. They emphasize the corners of the frame, and echo the visual thrusts of the piece. Furthermore, they articulate the frame or boundary by drawing visual attention to it. Whatever purposes of visual articulation the pipes perform, they do not also serve a functional purpose of structure. The idea, however, is there: that the frame be manipulated to become its own support, as well as an image.

Whereas the pipes in The Trap function optically, similar elements in Track (1977)—conceived and fabricated after The Trap—signify more than visual emphasis. Track is basically a right-angled triangular structure made of standard steel elements welded together. The short cross-pieces on the ground plane help support the sculpture; otherwise, the planar structure would not stand. Unlike the pipes of The Trap, the cross-pieces structurally mark the points of junction of the separate steel lengths that construct the sculpture. Not only do they create an image at the circumference of the frame, they articulate its structure at those points as well, and act as structural support on the ground plane. They also point to the forces inherent in the frame/structure at those joints. The triangular shape of the structure generates other forces within the boundary of the frame. The energy contained within the right-angle is different from that in the acute angles, and the cross-pieces separate these areas. The hypotenuse is created by three lengths that do not conform to a straight line; instead they form three straight tangents to an arc. Again the cross-pieces draw attention to the deflection in the force-vector's direction. The boundary here, as in The Trap, charges the space. Boundary in a structure—and not a volume—mediates between the open and the enclosed. The space on either side of the boundary—that which opens out from the sculpture, or that which is enclosed by its three sides—is energized differently. (This role of the visually two-dimensional boundary, in creating, distorting, and charging space, is again investigated in the charcoal drawing on plywood, Arc (1977), a work which has not been formulated in sculpture.) In Track, the cross-pieces are structure. They articulate the joints, and elaborate the points of force. They draw the image to the frame or reinforce the frame as image. Frame, structure/ support, and image are conflated in one sculpture.

Passage (1977) abandons the standardized steel material of much formalist sculpture in favour of wood. Its upright trapezoidal frame is reinforced by an interior brace, which acts in recognition of the fact that wood does not have the optically weightless qualities of welded steel; it cannot be as ‘exclusively visual’ as welded steel. Like Track, each side is not a single length of material: the wood planks have been cut into short segments and joined together, so that there is the same emphasis on the frame not just as boundary or frame, but as constructed support. The untitled drawing of 1978 further elaborates this direction. It is a near-sized study for a concrete sculpture composed of separately cast units. Each segment forms part of the boundary and comprises border, emphasis, and support in a single unit that serves these multiple functions. The elements corresponding to the pipes in The Trap are of a piece with the boundary, and are the structural means of joining the separate pieces together.

What differentiates Tucker's work from the formalism of Caro, for example—with its reliance on the purely optical image—is the concern for the structure of the image and, in Passage and the proposed concrete sculpture, the materiality of the structure. The fact that the work still manifests interest in the frame as image indicates that the sculpture is only mildly reformed Formalism.