Baby Charlie

The St. Louis Museum
November 18 -January 6, 1985

David Stoltz’s beguiling, innocent, and energetic sculptures evoke feelings of pleasure. It is rare to find works so positive in content and so stringently faithful to the profession of sculpture. The creation of such buoyant imagery is basic to Stoltz’s recent work, yet its evolution has been a lengthy one.

Stoltz seriously turned to sculpture in the mid-1960s. His apprenticeship to William Zorach for two years had provided him with a model of a man whose life was dedicated to sculpture. However, the forms which Stoltz constructed in the later ‘6Os were more closely allied with the lexicon of Greenbergian formalism than with the directly carved works of Zorach. Stoltz’s works of that time – large pieces of unpainted, bent steel extending along the landscape related to the forms of David Smith as refined by Anthony Caro.

From the constructivist tradition of Smith and Caro derives Stoltz’s interest in large-scale geometric shapes placed directly on the ground and reaching vigorously into space.


Baby Charlie

As characteristics, these form part of the basis of his recent inventions the environments and, most recently the “characters.”

Stoltz worked in this constructivist mode in southern Vermont for eight years, until he became restless from the restrictiveness of “formalist sculpture.” Stoltz felt the need to move away from making abstract sculpture of unpainted steel and was strongly attracted to incorporating specific references and brilliant color.

His radical change in style reflected a growing consensus among sculptors that making sculpture based upon purely formal considerations had led to a dead end. Instead of meandering, abstract metal forms, Stoltz shattered his weighty forms into a multitude of small pieces. Bits and lengths of steel were bent, painted brilliant colors, and placed in willfully chance like settings. His solution broke out of the Greenbergian mode of sculpture making and extended into the area of environmental art.

 

In one of the artist’s first environmental pieces, Utica II the component parts are seen against a seamless background which is used to disengage the viewer from the gravitational pull of ordinary objects. The viewer seems to float along with myriad objects, forms, creatures, and colors which crawl, hover, or zip before us like so much space “junk.” Yet, the sculpture is graphic in composition: the twisted metal is composed of linear elements which float like colored lines on a huge piece of sketch paper. The sculptures which once extended across the floor with formal reserve now extend in a multitude of directions with formal abandon.

From environments like Utica it emerged the “characters’ who constitute the focus of the present exhibition of Stoltz’s work from 1981 to date. Stoltz extracted from his environments several small, pod-like forms which had been placed among more linear elements and began working with them as individuals.

The characters reflect the expansive and playful aspects of the artists own personality and first appear as colorful sketches, which are drawn in numerous small notebooks. The important role of sketching in Stoltz’s work accounts for the linear; draftsmanlike quality of his sculptures: they read as flattened forms when silhouetted against the wall.

The ball-like form extracted from the environments becomes a core to which arms or legs can be appended. Its elliptical shape with legs and pod-like feet seems to refer to cartoon characters. This may be true, but, like the sculptures of Giacometti or Joel Shapiro, the simplified form also provides a method of condensing the human figure in a new way. Unlike Giacometti’s and Shapiro’s forms, Stoltz’s vision is of benevolent, whimsical, if subhuman characters.

On top of some of the forms like No Thought, a spiral shape suggestive of thought, was added. The twisted metal marks another move to explicit reference from the more abstract arena of Stoltz’s earlier work. These small, comic figures allow Stoltz to concentrate on gesture – the movement of the body in space. His sculptures move gracefully, if mindlessly. Like gremlins, they seem to replicate and multiply.

Defying the weighty material of which they are made, they seem to dance in space. The characters. as faceless but benign creatures (like R2D2 in Star Wars), are also easily combined and stacked by the artist. Twister, with its combination of two figures, its brightly painted pink and bluish black surfaces, and its eccentrically shaped “thought spiral,” represents the culmination of Stoltz’s development of this form.

In his most recent works like Bouncer, Stoltz has utilized a more abstract mode while cxperimenting with cast bronze. We can thank David Stoltz for populating the world with objects which reflect his kindly and positive demeanor.

Michael Edward Shapiro Curator of 19th & 20th Century Art

I am grateful to Louise and David Stoltz for assisting in every aspect of this exhibition, and to the lenders for parting with their works. Currents, an ongoing program of contemporary art exhibitions, is supported with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and funds from the Missouri Arts Council. M.E.S.