ROBERT TAYLOR, BOSTON GLOBE, SUNDAY, SEPT. 12, 1976
“SWITCHED ON WITH ELECTRICITY”
Boston artist Christopher Sproat treats incandescent and neon light the way other artists use pencil and crayon. But there is a difference between a graphic mark on a wall and tubes, wiring and streaks of luminescence. That difference is a major element in Sproat’s striking new exhibition of sculpture at MIT’s Hayden Gallery.
It is an exhibition where the specific situation of the constructions – a large, dim room removed from natural light sources and illuminated either by small overhead bulbs or the sculptures proper – means a great deal. These are not objects intended for other contexts; they are made in Hayden and the effects they establish, visual, emotional, and psychological, derive from the interaction of the six large pieces with each other and the walls, floors and atmosphere of this location.
To be sure, there is nothing to prevent the work from being set up elsewhere; another site, though, would alter our perceptions. The present solo developed out of the invitation, a year ago, of Wayne Anderson, who offered the gallery to Sproat as a “studio” where the sculpture could be created and installed. Sproat chose to partition the space in his own fashion, and, in emphasizing the relationship of his tangible, everyday hardware to a painted background, took a direction different from the one he chose in his Boston Museum of Fine Arts show with Robert Rohm during the spring of 1974.
The drawings or paintings that Sproat employs as background consist of basic logical shapes -rectangle, divided triangle, half circle. Like the drawings of Sol Lewitt, they exist directly upon the wall, thus stressing the flatness and substance of the area; but it is not so much Lewitt who comes to mind in connection with the drawing or painting as Andrew Tavarelli. An important aspect of Tavarelli’s drawings is interval, also an important aspect of Sproat’s constructions. The space between low wattage tubes, ruled edges and divisions of light and dark contributes a sense of order and control. Furthermore, the drawn or painted element often is texturally akin to the light element, which is cool, tranquil and limited to a delicate scale of hue. Or it might serve, even at the same time, as contrast: in the piece called “Sounding,” for instance, the strict boundaries of a brushy black half-moon shape play against the loose rhythms of wires leading toward a juncture box.
The relationship of the drawn and the painted to the functional hardware of the wiring systems acts in a different way from this device in the vocabulary of others who explore a “real” object and its artistic image, notably in the work of Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Jim Dine.
Johns, it seems to me, is more concerned with visual and philosophical paradox, Rauschenberg with the incorporation and transformation of junk materials, and Dine with bringing ordinary objects – tools, clothing, and toothbrushes – into his pictures as a species of autobiography. In Sproat’s six constructions, the projections of the hardware and junction boxes emphasize, to site Marjory Supovitz, “the duality of the seen and the unseen,” the distinction between the lighted areas and the circuits which govern the unseen flow of electricity. The sculptures are patently assembled objects, but they possess mystery because of course we cannot see – at least not in the terms of art – the most significant element of their construction, to wit, the flow of electricity.
Despite such subtleties and a refined mood of ambiguity, the pieces are readily accessible. Indeed some of them allude to natural objects, like “Mantis” and “Loom.” It is only an illusion that might derive from the title, though. The sculptures of Christopher Sproat serve as images of an industrial age, transformed by the energies of the imagination into constructions as immaterial as light, as controlled as the design of a snowflake or a sunflower.