60 Quests

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Miami-Dade College   Kendall Campus Art Gallery
January 13 – February 12, 2005
Sixty works – 45 sculptures and15 works on paper. Each is a meditative exploration of the nature of ‘space’ in the forms of Dolmens, Vessels and Zen gardens. 

A 12 x 40′ site-specific Zen Garden, Banyan Canopy… was created for the gallery space.

The works on paper include ink, pencil and digital drawings and a digitally produced artist’s book with drawings and poem titles from the exhibition.Titles of the works come from 60 short haiku-like poems written by the artist.

JAMES FUHRMAN: SIXTY QUESTS
Therese Dolan
Professor, Tyler School of Art, Temple University

James Fuhrman’s welded metal sculptures and works on paper commemorate the sculptor’s sixtieth birthday. All of the works have been created in the last few years, but like James Whistler when he was asked how long it had taken him to create a certain work of art, Fuhrman could answer, “All my life.” For him, each piece is a meditation that never proposes to illustrate an idea, but gives material form to a profound thought that is not passive introspection but is an alert contact with the living world of which he feels a part. Fuhrman derives the titles of the works from the haiku poetry he has written, which shares the same impulse of seeking unity with the world around him. The sureness of the craftsmanship of the pieces and the serenity of the physically small, yet powerfully monumental, forms speak of his mature aesthetic sensibility and spirituality that has been tempered over time. The sculptures are meticulously layered and conceptually complex while retaining a visual clarity.

Many of the dolmen-shaped sculptures with their post and lintel forms (Sunset climbs the hill…) recall the most primitive aspects of megalithic architecture, yet the reference is quickly updated by the sophisticated handling of the material that bears the marks of the acetylene torch and the welded metal. Thus, Fuhrman’s sculptures result in forms that seem to have existed from the beginning of time. When exhibited in vertical alignments, they evoke the starkly serene landscape of the menhirs at Carnac in France as if Fuhrman had harnessed a force of nature. Like these prehistoric stones, the works communicate silent strength and powerful singularity, suggesting mysterious mythic origins and ancient legendary narratives. It is as if Fuhrman discovered deep geologic time inside the metal of each piece such as in It is what it is… and Where does the moon rise… where the striations on the torch-cut steel give the works the weathered look of old stones or archaic monuments that have stood silent sentinel for centuries, unchanging and eternal, while everything around them has been born, blossomed, and died. The enclosing space in each dolmen is as important to Fuhrman as the solid weight-bearing elements. Their inner spaces create a shelter and a metaphor of meditation.

The grouping together of the sculptures on exhibit enriches their interdependence, like chapters in a fascinating epic novel. Yet when seen singly, each sculpture’s titanic energies are enhanced while their powerful individuality invites a visceral response to the way they create rugged volumes of contained space. Fuhrman called the pieces dolmens after he made them. He set out to create a form that was filled with presence and solidity, seeking to express, not hide, the weight-bearing elements in order to give the pieces a sense of earthiness tied to the horizontal sense of the land. The sculptures encourage tactility, as if the pent-up vitality of the piece could be released by pressing one’s flesh into and over the alternating ridged and smooth surface of the pieces, rubbing the welded seams puddled at the joints like a frozen flow of water. The conjoined forms suggest inner sanctums, secure refuges against the ravages of nature and time, yet when upended several of them become intriguingly layered vessels, open and inviting, catching ambient light, such as A bead of water…. The vessels provide a variant on Fuhrman’s sculptural idea of holding and containing.

Several of Fuhrman’s pieces have been inspired by Martha Graham’s choreography. Several years of studying Graham technique in class and hours observing rehearsals in her studio led him to value the connection between the dancer and the floor, and he became particularly interested in how the energy flows from the center of the body. How this gets translated into welded sculpture can be seen in Quarter Moon and Mars… for example. This small work has an intensity that is stark, angular, and spare. The abstracted forms maintain their individuality as separate entities, yet are inextricably linked in a metal pas-de-deux. The space between them generates an expressive tension, enhancing their taut relation to one another and the base on which they stand. They seem to reach toward each other, generating a sculptural conversation; at the same time that they preserve their uniqueness as sculpted form, with their singularity enhanced by the subtle differences in exterior finish. Another instance of this aesthetic sensibility can be found in Calm and Still connect to the Earth…where two large trapezoidal forms nestle into one another on the left while the smaller form on the right both echoes their color and shape while maintaining its integrity as an element of convincing power with its own authority to participate in the scene. Martha Graham once said: “You are unique, and if that has not been fulfilled then something has been lost.” Fuhrman’s sculptures are an embodiment of this statement. Each element makes its separate claim to preserve its distinct shape and inner meaning at the same time that it contributes to the visual synergy of the entire piece.

The deliberate visual economy of the forms stripped of all that is inessential aims less at any notion of modern elegance and more to communicate the essence of the sculptures as boldly compact forms with inner tensions that are enhanced when paired with others. One principle aspect of Fuhrman’s sculpture is how they claim the space they occupy and how the pieces release their energy. The titles of several of Graham’s dances – Cave of the Heart, Errand into the Maze, Dark Meadow – connote the same kind of implicit emotional intensity as Fuhrman’s visually arresting works.

Fuhrman’s sculptures use the torch marks and welded joints almost as drawing on the forms. They place themselves in the modern lineage of David Smith’s monumental constructions and Anthony Caro’s found steel elements. Yet they are also strongly infused with a Japanese sensibility of seeking centeredness, calm, sublimation of ego, of stillness and contemplation. The composer John Cage once stated that every stone at the Ryoan-Ji garden in Kyoto, Japan, was in just the right place. He then remarked that every other place would also be right. The same could be said about Fuhrman’s creations. Whether they are drawn images on paper, Cor-Ten® steel pieces grouped in Zen gardens, small gravel hillocks in a Zen garden (shown in a photograph that is aptly titled Hokusai Knows because it shares the creative impulse of the earlier artist), or welded steel dolmens and vessels gathered together, they radiate an aesthetic sureness in their location on the page, in nature, or on a planar surface. Fuhrman achieves this by the inherent compactness of the forms that quietly elicit prolonged contemplation by their conceptual simplicity.

A work such as After the storm… suggests the form of a Shinto temple gate, while There is one Buddha… looks like an Oriental character transposed in metal. Zen calligraphy is bold and impetuously confident, with an immediacy of effect that is blunt and intense. The Zen master creates spontaneously after long periods of meditation, releasing his expressive intent with clarity and intensity. The resultant form functions as an active meditation for the artist and a method of visual instruction for the viewer.

Fuhrman’s pieces are approached with a spirituality seeking connectedness with ultimate truths about the essence of things, a oneness with elements in the world that surround him. Fuhrman is clearly an artist in control of his craft whose work demonstrates a sureness of technique, a sophistication of vision whose complexity of thought unites with the simplicity of expression and technical proficiency to produce works that awaken the eye to singular aesthetic truths about beauty.

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