ARTnews reviews "Two Geologies"

May 2014

ARTnews
by Matt Fisher

Titled "Two Geologies," this exhibition paired the materially and geologically driven works of American sculptor Stephen De Staebler (1933-2011) with recent paintings by his widow, Danae Mattes. Chosen by Mattes, the selections offered two independent, complementary takes on the body's relation to the earth: one archeological and mythical, the other biological.

De Staebler is internationally celebrated for his segmented and deconstructed human figures that appear to be merging physically with geological elements, such as cross sections of a mountain or a hill.  The works on view here were made in the 1970's, and their forms appeared frozen in the process of emerging from or being interred in the earth.  Startling examples such as Standing Figure with Segmented Knee (1979), a contorted totemic figure whose vertical bones and flesh are melded with blunt slabs of clay, capture an intimate bodily struggle against time, decay, and dissolution.

Mattes's mixed-media paintings, meanwhile, are equally direct, emphasizing the figurative relationship between the earth and the body.  Her working process captures topological forces such as erosion and evaporation on materials including clay, paper and pigment on canvas.  In Whitescape (2012), the distinctive crackling in the surface was made by clay drying and shrinking in sections, creating rivulets, pockets, and stains that evoke parallels with the way time works upon the human body and psyche. 

The juxtaposition of the two artists' works teased out their corresponding concerns about texture, luminosity, and the discontentments and struggles of the body.

-Matt Fisher