A guest blog by writer and critic John Russell Taylor
An Artist with Letters
Even when it is physically very heavy, as sometimes it is, Randy Klein’s sculpture manages to seem light and airy: it always creates the impression of movement, and even when at its most serious contrives to preserve a certain light-hearted gaiety.
This makes it singularly difficult to discuss except in terms of paradox. Take the new works based on letter forms. One would swear that the pieces had been whipped up in an instant: they are as free and improvisatory as an oriental brush drawing. And yet….Before, when most of Klein’s sculptures were cast in bronze, he worked initially in that most fluid of media, wax, so that in a certain sense the spontaneity was built in and preserved through to the final casting.
Now he still sketches his forms in wax. But the finished pieces are made of forged steel, beaten and wrenched into shape by a lot of sheer main force, and then their surfaces worked over and laboriously burnished to vary the emphasis and provide an artful illusion of light and shade. There is no way that, in process, these sculptures can be spontaneous. So how come they still look and feel as though they are the work of a moment.
One might say that anyone can show us his labours and demand sympathy for the sweat of his brow, but only a master can shrug it all off and have us unquestioningly believing him. Klein has a rare spirit – Rarely rarely comest thou, O Spirit of Delight – and believes in livening us up rather than dragging us down. Philosophy of letter forms or not, it matters little. Left to ourselves we might not see O as a doorway someone can blithely step through, or W as something which is coming apart at the seams, or is maybe, like Humpty Dumpty, urgently in need of being put together again. But if Klein tells us that for him this is what they are, we are perfectly willing to entertain the notion, toss it around for a little, and run it up the flagpole to see if anyone salutes.
Nor does he want us to do anything else. The least dictatorial of artists, he would be the first to second the writer’s cry of “How do I know what I think until I read what I’ve written? For sculptors it can be the same: ideas rush to the ends of the fingers, bypassing the brain altogether, and it is only later, when the creator steps back, that he can see the significance of what he has done. Or a significance, for once the work is set adrift to fend for itself in the world, it may signify anything it is taken to signify, the creator’s significance not being necessarily more authoritative than anyone else’s.
Think of the letter L. Mae West remarks in the margin of one of her songs “Oh, it may be lie to you, but it’s lay to me!” Precisely. Active or passive, transitive or intransitive, it’s all a matter of how you look at it. In these letter forms Klein is trying to pin down no ultimate, absolute truth, but simply to involve us in a game of show and tell. The letters are a sort of Rorschach test, and we each show what we are by what we bring to them.
Happily, if the sculptures indicate what sort of a person Klein is, needless to say, the sculptures that have somehow, miraculously, popped out of his mind and into our consciousness, whether we asked them to or not.
I know I shall never see J,R or T the same way again.
John Russell Taylor