Caress of Steel, George Lloyd and Joe Slusky
The Portland Phoenix, November 3, 2000
Anyone who saw Philip Roger's portrait of George Lloyd at the Hay Gallery this summer will come to Lloyd's Aucocisco show with a hopeful expectation: that he work will be as alive, as exuberant, as the man in the photograph.
It is. With complexities of light and dark, and vigorous conflicts, unfettered abstraction boxed in by architectural references. Lloyd's 13 watercolors are paired with a dozen drawings by his longtime friend, West coast sculpture Joe Slusky, and a single steel Slusky sculpture, "Carousel," that channels as much exuberance as the Lloyd portrait.
Lloyd and Slusky became friends in the 1970's San Francisco, and when Lloyd, a Boston native, moved to Portland in the early 1980's the two artists, now in their 50's, kept up a close telephone fellowship. Their work is radically different in it most basic perception-heavy steel permanence versus watercolor transparence - but their perspectives are connected by a shared interest in constructivism. The experimental abstract movement emerged in Europe in the 1930s, favoring objective geometric forms over individual or emotional content. Both artists are preoccupied with space and how three-dimensional forms relate to it and in it, and both "build" art with an architect's awareness of spatial and structural planes.
Much as they like to think, these guys also play and the titles of Slusky's drawings sound like hilarious, obscure poetry. (See "Aghast at the Dispersal Center," "Merm-Foot with Entourage.") The visuals are similarly freaky-playful. In 1994's "Roastings of the Igmo-Donut," an ink-and-watercolor depiction of a crumbling alien landscape, miniature pyramids float through the air, vertical pilings lean on each other to no obvious purpose, and the horizon is spiked with vegetable stalagmites. The geometry is organic in a way steel sculpture can't be; the objects look soft and spongy. This landscape is no place we've been, but it is absolutely a landscape, and in this way-and elsewhere by incorporating the shape of a boat or an airplane - Slusky declines to sail in a sea of total abstraction. His visions include the detritus of our every day experience, though his reduction of things to their essential nature doesn't often leave the party we might find most familiar.
One also finds the familiar in Lloyd's painting, where a derby hat, a portly man and a table are subjects that share the spotlight with brush-driven forces of color, shadow, and surface. These are delicate works, pulled up to muscular, graceful conclusions just short of the cliff over which they would fall into chaos. Lloyd's sense of light and his color are instinctive and essential where Slusky makes them almost incidental, and it's tempting to construe this as a geographic difference flat California sunshine in contrast with shifting Maine atmosphere. In truth, Lloyd is as fond of orange as he is of gray, and much of his palette is warm and tropical in nature.
Though Lloyd's painting, with their overlapping opaque and transparent layers, are less ordered than Slusky's precise, detailed drawings, the Portland artist is ultimately more accessible. There is human life and longing in the figural "Femme Au Boudoir" (2999) and in "Landscape with Hill, House & Figure" (1997) where a luminous green hillock sits under a zooming red sky, and a whirl of connective energy tears the scene apart, tornado-style, knocking the lone figure sideways. Especially affecting is the quieter motion of "Leavetaking" (1999). A generic, featureless man turns away from two other figures lifting their arms up to wave goodbye. The scene is colored in pale blues and pinks, flecked and scraped in places with dark charcoal, especially through the center of the departing figure. Lloyd's bright, fluid doorways recall the dreamlike spatial ambiguity of late works by abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning
Slusky is at his best when he builds up parts of a drawing's surface with a murkier, waxier medium, seen in the turquoise heart of "Little Egypt" (1990). A pink, snakelike form curls over the intense blue, colored blocks stacked like steps going nowhere behind it, while a hailstorm of faint debris, sticks and triangles, fills the sky. The mood is momentous, the shapes seemingly meaningful.
"Carousel" the sculpture in the window at Aucocisco, is fluid and elegant, but also awkward and probing in its way. The hanging parts seem so to scream to be pushed into motion. "Everything is on the go," Lloyd once wrote of Slusky's sculpture. "Nothing is fixed or final." To the true modernist, he noted, form is secondary to space, and that's as apt a description as any for Slusky's sensibility. A sculptor first, trained in architecture, his drawings puncture and dived e what space can be implied on the page, but the drawing pad is his less -natural habitat. In it, he explores and forces his own ideas to their limits, and the drawings have the built-in resistance of the truly internal exercise, like the obsessive doodle-diagrams of some sleep-deprived techie savant. These fascinate and entertain the stranger who finds them, but their code cannot be broken. Best to invent some far-fetched explanation of your own.