Off By Christopher Sproat

Christopher Sproat at Barbara Krakow

Christopher Sproat is a sculptor who is also an accomplished maker of art furniture.  He works in wood with minor additions of various metals as well as the occasional small electric light.  In his recent installation in the project room at Krakow, one freestanding and four wall-hung wood constructions were interspersed among 32 6-inch-square charcoal drawings, all of which were hung in a close sequence at eye level.  A single horizontal line was penciled in below the drawings on all four walls, with a thin wash of creamy yellow paint scum bled in below it.  The drawings all had identical frames with the same satiny black finish as the sculptures.  The lighting was dim.  This dense but refined installation infused the work with a cool elegance that only partly hid its dark emotional undercurrent.

Sproat’s sculptures are impeccably crafted totemic constructions, which combine a furniture like sense of utility and finish with a sci-fi, Darth Vaderish sensibility.  The best of the lot was Scission (1990), a prickly wall piece in which two bladelike forms slice out above the viewers head like scissors arrested in mid-snip, while long delicately tapering legs arc together below.  Sharp prongs jut from the midsection, giving the peace an aggressive but ambiguous sexuality.  The female praying mantis’s notorious habit of consuming its partner after mating springs immediately to mind.  Another piece, Eye (1990), which features a flat disk held between two bent bows of wood, hung horizontally above a group of drawings like a silhouetted spaceship or a black moon rising.  Despite their superlative craftsmanship, Sproat’s three-dimensional works fall between the familiar modernist signposts of primitivism and Surrealism, a zone long ago domesticated and annexed by vernacular taste.  The sculptures juxtaposition with the drawings, however, was unexpectedly suggestive.

The drawings are extremely generalized renderings of landscape and sky motifs drawn with black chalk in a rapid, romantic style reminiscent of Emil Nolde.  In their immediacy and expressiveness they initially seemed to stand in sharp contrast to the laboriously crafted sculptures.  Sweeping clouds and empty fields of agitated grass, though, meld with abstracted forms similar to some in the sculptures, as if to recapitulate the way we tend to formalize or objectify what we think we’re seeing.  This ineradicable need we harbor to make something out of our surging response to the spectacle of nature, to somehow give permanence to the momentary sense of ourselves that we see revealed there, is Sproat’s true subject.  Taken as a whole, his installation conveyed some of the hopelessness with which we long for transcendence.