KENNETH BAKER, SPROAT AND SAMARAS, THE BOSTON REVIEW OF THE ARTS, MARCH 1972, P. 30-31
Christopher Sproat, a Boston artist who works with light has been moving into a similar area of his risk, but his sensibilities seems to be very much different from Flavin’s. (Laddie John Dill is the only other artist I know of who seems to be using light in somewhat the way Sproat is.) Sproat’s recent show at Parker Street 470 clarified the difficulties of working with light as a medium and demonstrated the finesse of his touch with his material.
A large concern in Sproat’s new work seems to be the way light treats space, or a space in particular. The central piece in the show was a large floor piece consisting of a number of heavy square wood beams set parallel in a row, spaced at about five foot intervals, and a single line of violet neon light running along the center line of the row of beams, dipping to the floor between beams and angling up slightly to pass over each beam. Where the line of light crossed the beams, their grain would be thrown into rough relief, one material disclosing another. That particular aspect fit with the sense that the light here was both the literal element and, so to speak, a figurative one. In contrast to the felt weight of the beams, the line of light seemed weightless, like a line on paper, and the fact that it was bent to trace its path reinforced the sense that it was like a drawn line, a pictorial element deployed in real space.
The effect of that deployment was to alter the space between the beams. The regular intervals between the beams read as a kind of calibration of the gallery space (this piece was quite long and would have been longer still but for the dimensions of the exhibition space.) The sense of the neon line as a drawn line freed the measured space in a way, loosened it up, made it possible for it to be seen as different in scale from its literal measure. What was most surprising about the piece, and about other work in the show that occupied free space, was the marking out a space with light in this way makes that space withdraw rather than “come forward.” The space in which these fine neon tubes sat seemed to be affected with a sense of fragility, like it might cave in as easily as the walls of the glass neon tube, if entered in the wrong way or at the wrong place. Both the freestanding pieces (one was actually free hanging) were bounded by fine wires (apparently necessary to keep spectators from getting close enough to damage the hardware), but these wires didn’t really read as part of the experience.
The sense of a large space made intimate occurred again in another of Sproat’s pieces. Here it was evident that the extent of the space was first made apparent by the light, which in turn rendered it intimate. Along one wall of the gallery, close to the floor, Sproat had an evenly spaced row of filamented yellowish lights. Below each lamp was a little plastic trough in which grew a little plot of grass. One’s feeling about this piece was that each element in it formed a little independent system, a little chuck of landscape with its own sun, and that the repetition of elements had as much to do with the natural process of the grass growing as with the duplicability of the electrical fixtures. I had one misgiving about this piece and that was that the electrical elements allow a certain artistic problem to be solved almost too easily. That problem is how to get parts of a work to be seen as related, if they are separated by, say, some expanse of real space. We really can’t help but see a row of identical fixtures as related, and that begins to seem like cheating. I’d like to see Sproat throw more obstacles in his own behalf in this regard; I think if he did so his work would be stronger.
One problem that Sproat hasn’t solved (and I don’t know how he could have under the circumstances) is how to keep the gallery space from dominating and ultimately controlling the form of his pieces. It seems to be very difficult to make something for a specific space that doesn’t turn out to be governed by that space.