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by John O'Brien


(Bobbie Greenfield Gallery, Santa Monica) (Bobbie Greenfield Gallery, Santa Monica) Louise Nevelson's painted terra-cotta sculptures and figurative drawings from the 1930s and '40s provide us with an insider's view of what the artist was thinking about early on in her career. Back in the 1930's, after she had studied with Hans Hofmann in Berlin and worked as an assistant to Diego Riviera, the work of Matisse seems to have been foremost in her mind. In the smaller ceramic works and figure drawings that date from that period, the simplification of the human form to carefully aligned shapes and elegantly calibrated textures and neutral spaces is reminiscent of Matisse's formal studies.

They also seem to preview Nevelson's later investigations into the simplicity of form taken from the functional shapes in American craft, a concern that informs her monumental sculpture of the late '60s and throughout '70s. Exaggerated shoulders and torsos for the male figures and accentuated hips and legs for the female figures turn the drawings from the representational to the symbolic.

Occasional forays into the textural lend a more expressive and, consequently, intimate approach to some figures, but by and large what Nevelson seemed to be striving to accomplish was to control the modeling of the physical space of the paper itself. Ciphers of form, the figures are placed singly or in groups over the entire surface of the sheet, activating the play of negative and positive spaces.

The ceramic works are unique anthropomorhic shapes evolving more towards the vertical. They are painted in a monochromatic, glossy gunmetal blue color that accentuates the turning and twisting of the forms. This austerity, which will become in time one of Nevelson's hallmarks, forcefully expresses the artist's interest in the universal as opposed to the particular. The few concessions to specificity are small surface scratchings that convey a highly stylized sense of facial features.



All Photos: Brian Forrest
By permission of the
Estate of Louise Nevelson.


""Untitled," ceramic,
10 x 10 x 81/2", 1945.


"Female Nude," ink on paper,
15 15/16 x 9 11/16", c. 1936.



"Untitled," ink on paper,
19 1/2 x 8 3/8", c. 1930.