The Sculpture of David Stoltz

Lane Faison

Sketch II, illustrated on the cover, is a forged steel sculpture re-cently acquired by the Williams College Museum of Art. It was purchased from the artist last September, soon after its completion. Although highly expressive despite its relatively modest dimensions of 36″ long by 12″ high by 12″ wide, it is one of several studies designed for expansion to heroic size. Such expansion would imply a commission, but commissions of that magnitude seldom come to artists in the early stages of their careers.

Such paintings are no longer conceived as pictures on a wall, but are themselves walls of painted surface.

David Stoltz lives and works in North Bennington, Vermont, by a country road that overlooks part of the Bennington College campus. Born in 1943, Mr. Stoltz studied drawing and sculpture under John Hovannes and Jose de Creeft at the Art Students’ League, New York, from 1963 to 1965; attended the Skowhegan (Maine) School of Painting and Sculpture in the summer of 1964, where he held a William Zorach Scholarship; and continued his studies at the Pratt Center for Contemporary Graphics, New York, from 1966 to 1968. From 1964 to 1966 he served an apprenticeship with the sculptor William Zorach. He has taught at the Rye Art Center and at the Pratt Graphics Center, and he has exhibited in galleries and annuals in New York, Rye, Portland (Maine), and in the Boston Common by invitation of the Boston Parks Commission. His major exhibitions in New York were held at the Andre Emmerich Gallery in 1970 (with four other sculptors) and at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery from last October 14 to November 2 (a one-man show that resulted in purchases by the Storm King Art Center in Mountainville, New York). The Williams College piece was included in the latter exhibition.

Neither sound training nor early recognition is a guarantee of arrival at artistic identity, but Stoltz’s training is at least reassuring in a medium as technically demanding (not to say expensive as forged steel sculpture. In my opinion, however, Stoltz has indeed fashioned in the past two years an identity marked by clarity and great power. If he has followed the lead in new directions for sculpture set by David Smith and Anthony Caro, he has successfully turned these sources of inspiration into points of departure. As the accompanying photographs will show, he is no passive imitator.

From David Smith comes Stoltz’s choice of medium and his decision to work strictly within its limits; but he has explored and discovered new potentialities. In his work there is a fresh sense of steel as something that, under conditions of great heat, can be treated as a plastic substance, bent and twisted to define, to encompass and to penetrate space. From the late work of Michelangelo to Bernini and Rodin, such dynamic concepts of space have surely been at the heart of sculptural creation. While these earlier masters have cast their spell on Stoltz, he has also responded to the radical simplification of natural forms in Brancusi and in African wood carvings. Like all true artists, he has imposed mind upon matter.

David_Stoltz_Steel_IV_4

Stoltz has indeed fashioned in the past two years an identity marked by clarity and great power.

Following another lead of Brancusi, Stoltz has worked toward elimination of the pedestal as a mere device to lift sculpture off the ground, where, to Stoltz, a sculpture should properly begin. Brancusi’s solution was to create pedestals out of dynamic and organic forms that harmonize with his sculptures, but they nevertheless remained pedestals. Rodin’s much earlier (and highly controversial) decision to place his Burghers of Calais on a shallow base barely above ground level comes closer to Stoltz’s intention. Anthony Caro is usually credited with the innovations which have inspired so many recent sculptures that appear to promenade on the grass, or the concrete pad, or wherever else they are placed.


 
But in Stoltz this same trend somehow cuts through mere fashionableness. For example, if one “reads” the photographs of Sketch II and Sketch III as the twenty-foot or even the forty-foot constructions they are intended to be, it becomes clear that any base would confuse and damage the effect. This is equally true of Stoltz’s already rather large pieces like Otto (the title suggests an African tribal name), where great plates of rolled and bent steel do the major work, as against the heavy rods twisted into a three-dimensional linear calligraph seen in Sketch II.

Stoltz uses paint only when he feels that strong color is needed to emphasize an effect of energy.

Elimination of the base in sculpture roughly parallels the progressive elimination of the frame in painting of the past two decades and the destruction of its expected rectangular or circular form we find in today’s “shaped” canvases. Such paintings are no longer conceived as pictures on a wall, but are themselves walls of painted surface. In like manner, Stoltz’s sculptures are neither wall-reliefs nor figures in space; on the contrary, they mould their own environment.

As for Stoltz’s procedure, it involves several kinds of operation. Since his small workshop cannot handle the rolling and bending of large plates, this is done on order at a commercial foundry. When plates are to be joined, Stoltz does his own welding. Finishing of the rough piece involves grinding (see the accompanying photograph) and sanding. The essential character of the steel surface is maintained, as in Sketch II, by a coat of spare varnish. In works like Owo linseed oil is applied to hold the texture of natural rusting and, over a period of time, to darken it to a very rich deep brown. Stoltz uses paint only when he feels that strong color is needed to emphasize an effect of energy, for example in Circles, which is a brilliant orange. He is moving away, however, from applied color, wishing instead to project his expression exclusively through the steel medium itself.

 

Stoltz’s sculptures are neither wall-reliefs nor figures in space; on the contrary, they mould their own environment.

David_Stoltz_Daygame

At 29, David Stoltz is already a distinctive and noteworthy sculptor and this example of what may someday be termed his “early work” is a piece which the College can be proud of owning.

Vertical Planes

Thomas Cohen, Thomas Hut

Since the early 1960’s Bennington, Vt. has been the home of modern metal sculpture. A tradition which began with the authoritative works of David Smith is still very much a part of this artistic community. It is also very much a part of the life and work of David Stoltz. Stoltz, however, has chosen not to reinterpret the constructivist logic of his predecessors nor has he desired to deal with the possibilities of “open” sculpture. Rather he has confronted the age-old sculptural problem of imbuing a static medium with energy. He has done so by investigating the inherent plastic potential of steel.

His works seem to be about the dynamism of line.

All the pieces in the show consist of steel sheets of a uniform thickness which have been joined into bands and laboriously translated into folds. By bending the steel Stoltz has created a visual narrative about process: here the process of “formation”. The viewer is made conscious of a transformation whereby human energy (labor) and physical input (heat) have combined to form visual energy (rhythm/flow). In addition the burnishing and “join” marks which Stoltz has left untouched are a visible affirmation of the artist’s role in these works.

By limiting the formal syntax of these pieces Stoltz is able to increase his control over the viewer’s visual participation. Specifically, in “Vertical Planes III” he has forced the viewer to focus upon the energy which undulates between the two near-vertical end planes. One notices that the decrease in the frequency of the folds between “Vertical Planes I” and “Vertical Planes III” does not visually change the impression of human control which is present in the. works. However, in “Gobi” (cover) where there are no such structural parentheses, the material seems to express its own innate energy. This is also due to the splayed effect of the vertical planes which breaks up any kind of directional bias and that adds to the degree of visual excitement. Even in this work, though, where the metal seems to have a life of its own, one is still conscious of the “forming” process.

David Stoltz has made us re-examine steel. His works are not only evidence of a mastery over a static medium but also they are evidence of his control over one’s visual stimulation. Furthermore, his works seem to be about the dynamism of line (its three-dimensional counterpart) and its validity an autonomous unit. Perhaps these pieces have been influenced by his training as a graphic artist; perhaps they relate to the energy of Abstract Expressionist painting; but whatever the source for these sculptures they are above all about a new may of looking at steel. There is an intense interaction between David Stoltz and steel, and it would seem to be a fruitful one.