by Bill Lasarow
(Tasende Gallery, West Hollywood; The Remba Gallery, West Hollywood) It is possible to regard the art of sculptor Andrés Nagel as a metaphor for Spain's generational adieu to facist repression. He is something of a Spanish Hockney in that his work embraces the spirit of the recent modernist past, draws on the tradition of the Old Masters, but breaks with both to assert a lighter spirit. He laces the solemnity of his preferred subjects with uplifting humor. Nagel's signature work to date, The Dragon Without St. George, is an enormous public work located in Barcelona (whose patron saint is the absent St. George). Far from being either frightening or majestic, it is an inviting cutout that sports children wandering through a latticework of interior stairs and slides--little kinetic bugs that exist symbiotically with the living corten steel.
It is actually the fairly unusual use of cut fiberglass coated with polyester (and finished with traditional oil paint) that provides the foundation of Nagel's whole aesthetic. Yes, there are the works in bronze or steel--and other materials creep in--and lots of drawings, collages, and prints to work out or support the larger works. But the characteristic rough-hewn forms full of gestural expressiveness are the product of working in a medium that is not designed for refined handling in the first place.
The Centennial of the Constitution, a depiction of the lower half of a springing figure disappearing through the ceiling, uses traditional volumes to support the muscular forms. Its painted feet or shoes remain behind on the floor, the feet of the receding figure demonically displaying only two toes each. In between, a twisting snake-like form--that may also be interpreted as intestines or a powerful spring--fills the void,casting a blue "shadow" against the vertical backdrop that contains the entire action.
"Dancing Couple", corten steel, unique,
"Still Life," mixed media and
"Saint Thomas Aquinas II," mixed media and oil
The arrangement of flat, cut-out shapes to build volume is another major component of Nagel's sculptural vocabulary. These may occur as free-standing works, or in wall-mounted pieces that are essentially bas-relief paintings, which are very much in evidence here. Dancing Couple, a totemic ballerina aloof to the embrace of her serrated partner, represents the former. Typical of the latter, the charged space surrounding a single, standing horn player in Still Life provides the energy and engaging detail surrounding an otherwise rather stiffly self-confined muscician.
The European flavor of Nagel's work arises easily from much of his specific as well as implied subject matter--the title of one sculpture, Saint Thomas Aquinas II, makes the point-- which tends towards a blend of fantasy and primitivism. It represents a strain of surrealist rather than religious devotion, however: This Aquinas, nude and with horns, stands astride a harpooned alligator-like dragon that also hosts a tiny horse upon its tail.