Jim Buchman, “Sculpture”
Dixon Gallery and Gardens, 4339 Park, through Dec. 2. Call 901-761-5250 or visit Dixon.org.
Surely they are sentinels, these 13 tall, quiescent shapes that occupy the forecourt at Dixon Gallery and Gardens. Or perhaps they're guardians, mutely sanctioning our sleep and dreams.
Whatever they are, the Dixon has never seen anything like these sculptures by local artist Jim Buchman, on display through Dec. 2. Whether seen on a bright, sunny day or under the gloaming of cloud cover and drizzle, the pieces cannot fail to impress on myriad aesthetic and emotional levels.
Accompanying the works outside are 19 pieces in the Mallory and Wurtzburger Gallery inside, smaller sculptures that served as studies for the larger ones and the beginning of Buchman's efforts in this manner going back to 2003 in cast concrete and 1995 in carved, turned and chipped wood.
John Keats called the Grecian urn that inspired his poem "thou still unravished bride of quietness," but while Buchman's mainly monumental sculptures embody a weighty, indeed ponderous silence they're anything but unravished. Part of his skill and creative insight is to allow each piece to change as we walk around it, segueing from almost virginal simplicity of form to heavy grid-like patterning to the violence of hewn, cleaved and sundered facets. Most of the outdoor pieces terminate in some sort of chimney-like effect, a device that because of the somberness of the pieces and their dark or stone-like colors lends a certain foreboding quality; we have to wonder what smoke and ash were expelling by these intricate, massy columns.
Buchman seems to be consciously aiming for an archaic feeling in these pieces, though whether consciously or not he has attained that goal. Kipling mentioned the ancient long-disappeared cities of Nineveh and Tyre in his commemorative poem "Recessional," and there is about Buchman's work a consistent sense of ancient ruins, inchoate history and bruised hubris; as Shelley says, ironically, in "Ozymandias": "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair."
Similarly, these totems speak of abandonment and of interrupted narratives, and yet they are, however deeply incised and variously patterned and flowing, rigorously abstract.
Indeed, as difficult as it may be to subtract associations from such suggestive work, it's in regarding them as abstraction that we do them most justice, as pure expressions of three-dimensional form in air and how they potently possess, as articulation and configuration, the amount of atmosphere they displace.
But we can't be purists all the time. Feel free to bring your private feelings and assessments to these extraordinarily evocative pieces. You won't forget them for a long time.