(1) "Wing-Arm Torso", bronze, 41 3/4 x 34 x 25",
(2) " Wing-Arm Woman", bronze, 36 1/2 x 52 1/2 x 17 1/2", 1992.
(3) "Torso with Springing Hip", bronze, 37 3/4 x 12 x 8 1/2", 1987/89.
(4) "Two Women Walking", bronze, 75 1/2 x 31 1/2 x 31", 1992.
(Lizardi/Harp Gallery, West Hollywood) The poet Robert Bly
has commented that in most walks of life outside of the arts,
excessive competition does not, in his words, "allow feeling
to come in." Sculptor Stephen De Staebler's work, on the
other hand, proceeds via inclusion, embracing, as it does, the
circle of paradox, and in so doing honors artistic and human wholeness.
For over thirty years, De Staebler, from his northern California base, has been creating works of intense poetic beauty. He embodies an art of synthesis, combining "classic" motifs of Bay Area Figurative painting and Funk assemblage--fragment oriented sculpture with allusions, echoes, assertions of figuration in general, as it has "walked," almost literally, from antiquity through the twentieth century.
Perhaps more than any other aes- thetic position or question, modern art has struggled with the Keatsian dialectic of "truth and beauty's" dilemma. On the one hand art must fearlessly commit itself to the truth about the human condition. If, however, that truth exposes man's ugly inhumanity to man, as well as each individual's at times horrifying and private dance with darkness, how can creative works expressive of such truths also be beautiful? "Between extremes," wrote Yeats, "man runs his course." Between extremes, as well, De Staebler's sculpture declares it's worth.
Consider Yoke-Winged Man, one of his elegantly fragmented bronze figures. It rises, balanced in its amputated mystery, off its pedestal on a lone left leg. The left arm extends outward, horizontal, wing-like to the ground. There is no right arm or leg. They exist in non-existence. The left limbs, in other words, balance nothing. This, like most of the artist's works, offers an art history lesson in a glance, without (and here in lies the magic) sacrificing its immediate and present emotion. Just as the ancient Greeks adored, if not invented, an appreciation and fascination for the rhythms of formal wholeness and balance in art (as well as in other walks of life), the fragments of ancient sculpture, as archeologists discovered them, came to express an exquisite kind of complete statement in and of themselves. The viewer's imagination fills in what time has carved away from a work such as the Venus de Milo. De Staebler, in postmodern fashion, appropriates images of ancient sculpture's bits and pieces into works new in material but ancient in soul.
The personal, pedestrian insouciance of his figure's poses also reflect the rich humanness also expressed in the work of Richard Diebenkorn, David Park, Elmer Bischoff, Manuel Neri, and other Bay Area figurative artists. His method of gracing his figures with a hand-painted (and extremely tender) patina suggests another Bay Area imprint: The hand-painted metal sculpture of artists such as Robert Hudson and Joseph Slusky.
A splendidly versatile artist, De Staebler shows other sculptures that exhibit his penchant for abstraction, integrating as they do, a figurative and often mythological element in one way or another. In Inverted Portal, a spacious and simple rectangular form balances on an upside down and, characteristically, charred human head, which, in turn emerges out of a heap of bronze lava-like-looking "rock." The entire piece lies on a broad bronze base. Rounding out the exhibition De Staebler will show gestural monotypes of figures that again blend a colorful and watery freshness with a strong sense of structural integrity and emotional depth.