by Marlena Donohue

"Eva," bronze, ed. of 4,
85 x 15 x 15", 1998.

""Relieve Hombre," bronze,
85 x 38 x 6" each of
two panels, 1998.


"Horizontal (Hombre Varilla),"
bronze, ed. of 4, 15 3/4" x 59 x 15".

(Iturralde Gallery, West Hollywood) There are a few insistent figurative sculptors who, oblivious to trends toward and away from represntation of the human body, continue to ply their trade: Manuel Neri, Robert Graham and, with increasing presence, the Mexican Javier Marin.

The difference between Marin and other contemporary figurative sculptors is that he is a dyed-in-the-wool classicist with nearly all that implies. Marin was trained at the National Academy of San Carlos, where I suspect rigorous, academic draftsmanship is stressed in a way that our more conceptual schools eschew. For all its overt and covert eroticism and its experimentation with form, Marin's works in clay and the new bronzes are steeped in art historical evocations of classicism. From that solid point of departure the work becomes compelling. Marin toys with (sometimes fluidly, sometimes with the contrivance of a mannered pose) key torque points between the classical and anti-classical attitude.

In the spirit of signpost classicists (from Polykleitos to Leonardo to Edgar Degas) Marin has this instinctual sense that the corporeal body is our passageway between the material and the transcendent. Between, as T.S. Eliot put it, the idea and the reality. Between all that grab-your-viscera type stuff like desire and sexuality, and less tangible things like beauty and truth. Marin uses process, materials and subject matter to address these potentially hackneyed issues in fairly provocative ways. He occasionally falls into hyperbole, but this is rarer than you would expect for work so intensely felt and passionately executed.

In Marin's squared jaws and full, pouty mouths; in the elegant distractedness of his gazes; in the suggestion of stance and counterstance, ease and discomfort he hearkens back to the ancient notion of a cannon of aesthetic perfection (or lack thereof). This links conceptually, physically, and psychologically, as was the case in Greece, the Renaissance and yet to- day, to the human form and its abberations.

We are most familiar with Marin's works of rough hewn clay mixed with iron and cobalt oxides that produce a rich red reminiscent of classical vase painting or indigenous Mexican jarros. His switch to bronze during the last few years places him even more squarely within the European tradition.

 The new work recalls another time when the classical was consciously tweaked with fascinating, elegantly bizarre and erotic results: Mannerism. Elongated figures with tiny balletic heads recall Pontormo. Lumbering figures look gracefully imprisoned by their own mass. An untitled life size male nude looks more impaled than supported by the metal armature. His delicate creation-of-Adam hand gesture is suspended in mid-air and oddly detached from a forearm.

 Marin leaves intact bits of armature or parts of the channels used to pour molten bronze into the lost wax mold. These protrude awkwardly to echo figures' branch-like appendages, so that pieces feel absolutely resolved --nothing can be added or removed--and somehow still in progress.

Marin's excess facility with heroic form and classical grandeur was nicely checked by the earthen clay suggesting non-Western and non-academic roots. That unique and satisfying effect is compromised in bronze. On the other hand, to get the obdurate, stodgy, ole' boy medium of bronze to float, to breathe, to reflect light and all but quiver with portent as Marin does, this is a purely Latin, over-the-top classicism of which gringos like Degas and Rodin could only dream.