by Bill Lasarow
It is also easy to suppose that the pre-War generation of European abstract artists left a lasting impression on this artist, particularly Kandinsky. It was he who triangulated visual formalism with music and spiritualism. Stylistically Chillida's controlled and modular palette of shape is closer to de Stijl's, if far more permissive. The allusions to musical notation appear frequently and, again, both by formal analogy and via the occasional title. The Music, a small piece in which two vertical slabs of steel are joined by groupings of three arches on each side, is a composition as suggestive of figuration as can be seen in his sculpture, essentially a dancing couple.
The embrace of such associations set Chillida and other European artists apart from their American counterparts who were also emerging during the 1950's and 60's. Abstraction for them was driven by a desire to address the inherent, self-contained quality of media and object. They avoided poetic allusion, at least at that time. Post-modernist attitudes later opened up a willingness to reincorporate free ranging associative thinking, but Chillida's work argues that it was always part of European post-War Modernist thinking.
A parallel characteristic of Chillida's art is that while it is delimited, it is hardly doctrinaire (it is hardly whimsical, either; there isn't a hint of self-parody here). The drawings and prints that accompany the sculpture on display don't just bend from but break off into line studies of the figure and the artist's hands. The line of these studies is neither deft nor powerful enough to pose a threat to the more important sculpture, but it is instructive.
The abstract work does better, establishing compelling interplays of positive and negative space, interesting rhythms, and a particularly original tension between line and space he gets by cutting and layering sheets of paper. Using a wide, calligraphic black ink line, he uses the shadow of the cut edges of overlapping sheets as a complementary fine line. A series of Gravitation drawings stand up especially well apart from the sculpture. It would be surprising not to see these images evolve into sculpture--imposing volume onto a disembodied series of shapes is a particular strength of this artist. The drawings deepen the satisfaction of the show because they offer such a certain promise that upcoming sculpture that is sure to come appears to have a fresh energy propelling it. It provides a youthful edge that does away with any concern that there may be a creeping stodginess.