REVIEWS AND QUOTES IN ORDER
KENNETH BAKER, SPROAT AND SAMARAS, THE BOSTON REVIEW OF THE ARTS, MARCH 1972, P. 30-31
Christopher Sproat, a Boston artist who works with light has been moving into a similar area of his risk, but his sensibilities seems to be very much different from Flavin's. (Laddie John Dill is the only other artist I know of who seems to be using light in somewhat the way Sproat is.) Sproat's recent show at Parker Street 470 clarified the difficulties of working with light as a medium and demonstrated the finesse of his touch with his material.
A large concern in Sproat's new work seems to be the way light treats space, or a space in particular. The central piece in the show was a large floor piece consisting of a number of heavy square wood beams set parallel in a row, spaced at about five foot intervals, and a single line of violet neon light running along the center line of the row of beams, dipping to the floor between beams and angling up slightly to pass over each beam. Where the line of light crossed the beams, their grain would be thrown into rough relief, one material disclosing another. That particular aspect fit with the sense that the light here was both the literal element and, so to speak, a figurative one. In contrast to the felt weight of the beams, the line of light seemed weightless, like a line on paper, and the fact that it was bent to trace its path reinforced the sense that it was like a drawn line, a pictorial element deployed in real space.
The effect of that deployment was to alter the space between the beams. The regular intervals between the beams read as a kind of calibration of the gallery space (this piece was quite long and would have been longer still but for the dimensions of the exhibition space.) The sense of the neon line as a drawn line freed the measured space in a way, loosened it up, made it possible for it to be seen as different in scale from its literal measure. What was most surprising about the piece, and about other work in the show that occupied free space, was the marking out a space with light in this way makes that space withdraw rather than "come forward." The space in which these fine neon tubes sat seemed to be affected with a sense of fragility, like it might cave in as easily as the walls of the glass neon tube, if entered in the wrong way or at the wrong place. Both the freestanding pieces (one was actually free hanging) were bounded by fine wires (apparently necessary to keep spectators from getting close enough to damage the hardware), but these wires didn't really read as part of the experience.
The sense of a large space made intimate occurred again in another of Sproat's pieces. Here it was evident that the extent of the space was first made apparent by the light, which in turn rendered it intimate. Along one wall of the gallery, close to the floor, Sproat had an evenly spaced row of filamented yellowish lights. Below each lamp was a little plastic trough in which grew a little plot of grass. One's feeling about this piece was that each element in it formed a little independent system, a little chuck of landscape with its own sun, and that the repetition of elements had as much to do with the natural process of the grass growing as with the duplicability of the electrical fixtures. I had one misgiving about this piece and that was that the electrical elements allow a certain artistic problem to be solved almost too easily. That problem is how to get parts of a work to be seen as related, if they are separated by, say, some expanse of real space. We really can't help but see a row of identical fixtures as related, and that begins to seem like cheating. I'd like to see Sproat throw more obstacles in his own behalf in this regard; I think if he did so his work would be stronger.
One problem that Sproat hasn't solved (and I don't know how he could have under the circumstances) is how to keep the gallery space from dominating and ultimately controlling the form of his pieces. It seems to be very difficult to make something for a specific space that doesn't turn out to be governed by that space.
CARL BELZ, 1974 EXHIBITION CATALOG FOR ROBERT ROHM / CHRISTOPHER SPROAT
AT THE MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, BOSTON, MA.
In drawing parallels between the two artists:
One of the most fascinating aspects of this combination of sculptures is that they together reflect an age-old phenomenon in the development of Western-style. I am referring to the distinction between the Venetians and the Florentines, the Rubenists and the Poussinists, and the Romanticists and the Classicists - in short, the distinction formulated by Heinrich Wolfflin between artists who emphasize color and artists who emphasize drawing. During the Renaissance of the 15th and 16th centuries, the Venetians explored the possibilities of bright hues and rich brushwork, while the Florentines suppressed color in favor of clear linear design. Likewise in the Baroque: Rubens and his followers carried on the painterly Venetian tradition, while the Poussinists stressed the importance of crisp sculptural outlines. In 19th-century France, the dichotomy reached the level of public debate. Delacroix and the romantics were viewed as bitterly opposed to Ingres and the classicists: ambiguity, inspiration, and feeling on one hand, and precision, discipline, and reason on the other. In our own century, the distinction can be seen in a comparison between the Fauves and the cubists or, in sculpture, between the gestural expressiveness of Rodin and the patient refinements of Brancusi. Given the authority of such a tradition, we should not be surprised to find it still operating, however consciously or unconsciously in the present day.
??????Christopher Sproat represents the other side of the coin in our comparison of the painterly versus linear. His sculptures are serene and delicate, cool in their overall effect, yet exquisitely handled in terms of their smallest details. They penetrate their surroundings with gentle planar rhythms that balance the vertical and the horizontal and generally eschew sharply angled thrusts into space. The directions they assume are, of course, largely dictated by the right-angled spaces we normally inhabited and work in. Compositionally, this gives the works a distinctly rational dimension. As arbitrary arrangements are kept to a minimum, the sculptures make their appeal to our need for some kind of predictable order and structuring discipline. None of the pieces, however, are literally ordered; that is, no single element or relationship in them would enable us to predict succeeding elements or relationships in the way we were able to do with so much minimal or, as it was sometimes called, ABC art. Sproat's acknowledgment of logic, in other words, is consistently humanized; it is never strictly mathematical or merely cerebral. In structuring his intuitive decisions, he recalls, despite his radically different methods and materials, either classicsizing modernists such as Brancusi in sculpture and Degas in painting.
On first encounter, his sculptures tend to be passive, partly invisible. The subtle beams of neon tubing seem rather inconsequential in relation to their attached electrical hardware. Moreover, they project no light into their surrounding environment. As lights, they are not functional in the ordinary sense, and we may even wonder why they want electricity at all. As it turns out, the neon beams have an entirely aesthetic function. In many cases they are either hover in space, measuring and delineating it, or else they trace one or another of the surfaces - wall, floor, ceiling - that constitute their particular location. As with Rohm's sculpture, relations between the object and its situation materialize slowly - not because the objects initially overwhelm us, but because the redefined use of light, like any redefinition of our everyday experiences, takes time to absorb. ????.
Sproat's materials have color properties that are also more "classical" than "romantic." First, his hardware fixtures are painstakingly selected for surface value and shape as well as for the functional jobs of connecting and insulating that they have to do. They are invariably clean and cool, and their natural colors - gray, white, silver - are equally reserved and quiet. Though the colors subtly interact with one another, the relations consist of delicate shifts of value rather than dramatic contrast of hue. No color in the hardware stands out as a sensational moment. Even the strongest potential contrast, between the gray hardware assemblage and a black cord or transformer, feels more like an appropriate tonal accent than a jarring, coloristic flurry. Finally, the color of the neon beams reinforces the general restrained aura of the works as a whole. Whether blue or violet their cool illumination at once harmonizes and punctuates the sculptures' even, contemplative serenity.
With respect to the creative act, Sproat reveals neither his presence nor his process. His sculptural materials look untouched, as if new or at least unaffected by previous handling. They are designed and manufactured by someone else, usually for purposes only vaguely related o the one Sproat adapts them to. They may indeed be electrical fixtures, that is, but we are unlikely to have seen them joined in this particular way. In joining them at the same time, Sproat gives no clues as to what came first or second in his decision-making or assembling process. The sculptures appear to have been started and completed in a single, particularly calculated gesture. As a result, they suggest permanence, like a phenomenon outside of time, something that transcends the capriciousness of ordinary human endeavor. Thus, they reflect a classical, idealizing temperament - which comes as a surprise in view of the work's obvious physical delicacy and of the fact that we could easily terminate its existence by pulling a plug from the wall. But such sensations constitute a literal, superficial reading of the objects. For their permanence, it should be pointed out, resides not only in their deeper stylistic traits but also in their sturdy manufacturer and in the fact that they could be operated constantly, 24 hours a day, for approximately 25 to 30 years - at a cost of a penny or two a day. Such "lights" are not common within our experience.
Sproat "draws" with both his hardware fixtures in his neon beams. The fixtures, for instance, are functional, though not merely functional. They enable the artist to complete an electrical circuit; but not just any fixtures will do. In his recent work, Sproat has generally favored clusters of precisely fitted elements that come together in crisp, right angle configurations. The clusters are clearly articulated in terms of their small-scale, separate parts, and they usually occur after long but regular intervals of neon beams and connected conduits. Compositionally, the clusters of intense detail serve to balance and counteract the uninflected linear passages of the beams and conduits, providing welcome pauses in the latter's broad and sweeping movement. The "drawing" in other words, is executed through the selection and assemblage of a wide variety of carefully chosen hardware items. Sensing those processes of selection and assemblage, but unable to recreate them imaginatively, we thus regard their products as objective, though certainly not inhuman. Their overall effect is something like that of an Ingres drawing, where delicate lines sweep gracefully through space and suddenly gather into clusters of intense detail. Everything looks objective - the quiet outline of a dress in one place, the agitated detail of the lace in another - as if all the lines had been dictated by the facts of the visible world. The more we look, however, the more we see the artist's deliberate choices and decisions. As we do, the real differences between art and life become manifest.
JANE HOLTZ KAY, ART NEWS, 1975, MONTH? P. 70
Christopher Sproat fills space well: his neon sculptures related to the rooms of Harcus Krakow Rosen Sonnabend Gallery without dissolving into "d飯r." Neon tubes joined to pipes, coils and blunt industrial boxes or coursing parade near a baseboard, dangle like phone coil, apply themselves to the wall in the rhythmic progression of an Art Deco mural or railing, enframe and transform a corner of the room beneath the stairs. Ambiguity is heightened by the radiant neon as well as by the mystery that surrounds its forms and functions ? which silver box or pipe really powers of the light? Does the coil adorn or motor the work? Even the charcoal drawing attached to one work seems a light source as well as backdrop.
MARJORY SUPOVITZ, EXHIBITION TEXT, HAYDEN GALLERY, MIT
"CHRIS SPROAT: MADE IN HAYDEN" 1976
Last fall, Professor Wayne Andersen offered Boston artist Christopher Sproat the Hayden Gallery as a 'studio' for a period for an exhibition to open in 1976 ? 1977 season. In early August, Sproat undertook the challenging task of building a coherent body of works right on the spot. Although the nature of the gallery plan is a flexible one with innumerable options for spatial division, Sproat chose a basic installation design that consists of one large area devoid of natural light. The resultant austere atmosphere enhances the quiet drama and ethereal spirit that is common to all Sproat's constructions. At a later date, one of the works in the show will be reconstructed on another campus site as part of the MIT permanent collection.
Although they draw upon the lexicon of electrical hardware parts which Sproat has developed since he began showing in 1970- wire, coil, electrical metallic tubing and junction boxes, incandescent and neon light- the proportions of usage, selection of parts and inclusion of painted and chalk drawn images on the wall indicate that the ambitious pieces in the exhibition represent a new focus
They are an intensified realization of the dialogue of dualities Sproat has often articulated in the past. The new works are at once sculpture, relief and picture; machine produced and handmade; dense and weightless; open and closed; artisanship and poetry. Mass and line and counterpoise and equilibrate strikingly. The bulk of the conduit is real; that of the colossal somber painted shapes implied. A linear complement is sensitively provided in the fine wire, springy coil and stringently used neon or incandescent light. Light also functions conversely as an atmospheric, dematerializing tool, an illusory negation of the solid elements in the works.
Earlier, Sproat worked principally with light. Minimizing his use of hardware as a formal, as well as functional element, Sproat built luminous, delicate pieces that were essentially light drawings emphasizing the physical conditions of a particular location and often expanding across the floor, up the wall and onto the ceiling. More recently, he had begun to employ rather stout electrical conduit and other conspicuous hardware with either weighty or delicate neon fixtures. The thick neon tubing served as a recapitulation of a room's architectural character while the thin strips of neon light in the more self-contained pieces were often shaped into rhythmic arcs or undulating curves emulating the pliancy of cords and wires.
The personality of the site still determines much of the character of Sproat's work. On the gallery's far wall, "Loom," for example, developed its two systems and overall configuration from the adjacent doorway. Sproat's general impression of the MIT campus also informs the body of the works as a whole. A range of measurement from expansive to economical that he has discovered in the various architectural features of the campus are reflected in the shifting scale of the pieces in the show.
All Sproat's work, whether composed solely of an assembly of industrial products or incorporating tangible evidence of the artist hand, communicates a humanized presence. Sproat advocates art that expresses human values: poetry, beauty and feeling supersede internal problem solving. His spiritual heritage emerged from the lineage of Brancusi, Giacometti, Henry Moore and various literary masters as well, and he has set about to paradoxically load upon those machine age materials of his choice the personal associative content of humankind.
If his aesthetic philosophy is wedded to tradition, Sproat's working methods and awareness of the artifacts of today are an outgrowth of recent trends in art. Since the historic Primary Structures exhibition in New York's Jewish Museum in 1966, when artists like Donald Judd, Carl Andre and Dan Flavin were commissioned to design for and execute works in a specific situation, the notion of place has become a source of inspiration for many artists, and the character of the surroundings assumed important status in the formulation of the works rationale.
The use of electric light as an art producing material gained particular credence in the past decade mainly through the pioneering efforts of such sculptors as Dan Flavin, Chryssa and Steven Antonakos, although many Process oriented artists especially Morris, Sonnier, Serra Nauman have employed light incidentally in the service of their respective interests. In the 'hard-core' group of contemporary light artists Flavin has been a primary exponent of 'anti-form,' devising fluorescent light arrangements that reiterate an interior space and stress installation over object. Chryssa and Antonakos, on the other hand, immersed themselves in the making of objects whose main component was neon. For both originally, a major catalyst was Pop Art with its commercial sign associations and such precedents as the actual incorporation of electric light in works by George Segal, Robert Indiana and James Rosenquist among others. Amplifying the viability of the medium, Sproat has evolved an independent expression. He has emphasized that his choices are governed ultimately by the laws of how electricity flows. Not only the visibly lighted areas but also the channeling of electricity back to its source are input for the pieces configurations. Another duality between the scene and the unseen unfolds.
The relationship of real objects to a painted or drawn background that Sproat addresses in his new work became a central issue for Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper John, and later Jim Dine. It is Dine chiefly to whom Sproat's recent work most closely connects. In his output of the 1960's, Dine often confronted the vestigial canvas with all kinds of hardware- even electrical. And like Jim Dine's lyrically expressive tools, Sproat's inanimate parts are bathed in organic being. However, the associative content that envelops Sproat's pieces has little to do with any inherent suggestiveness as is the case with Dine's urban junk or used hardware. Rather, Sproat reintroduces a metaphoric text into pristine, industrially fabricated elements by assembling them in a fresh and personal way.
The authority of Sproat's new work is underscored by the process of electrical energy. The referents to outside systems, both physical and metaphysical, suggest a profound iconography and links to Process and Earthworks ideology. Embracing a complexity of artistic concerns, Sproat ranks as one of the most challenging sculptors working today.
ROBERT TAYLOR, BOSTON GLOBE, SUNDAY, SEPT. 12, 1976
"SWITCHED ON WITH ELECTRICITY"
Boston artist Christopher Sproat treats incandescent and neon light the way other artists use pencil and crayon. But there is a difference between a graphic mark on a wall and tubes, wiring and streaks of luminescence. That difference is a major element in Sproat's striking new exhibition of sculpture at MIT's Hayden Gallery.
It is an exhibition where the specific situation of the constructions - a large, dim room removed from natural light sources and illuminated either by small overhead bulbs or the sculptures proper - means a great deal. These are not objects intended for other contexts; they are made in Hayden and the effects they establish, visual, emotional, and psychological, derive from the interaction of the six large pieces with each other and the walls, floors and atmosphere of this location.
To be sure, there is nothing to prevent the work from being set up elsewhere; another site, though, would alter our perceptions. The present solo developed out of the invitation, a year ago, of Wayne Anderson, who offered the gallery to Sproat as a "studio" where the sculpture could be created and installed. Sproat chose to partition the space in his own fashion, and, in emphasizing the relationship of his tangible, everyday hardware to a painted background, took a direction different from the one he chose in his Boston Museum of Fine Arts show with Robert Rohm during the spring of 1974.
The drawings or paintings that Sproat employs as background consist of basic logical shapes -rectangle, divided triangle, half circle. Like the drawings of Sol Lewitt, they exist directly upon the wall, thus stressing the flatness and substance of the area; but it is not so much Lewitt who comes to mind in connection with the drawing or painting as Andrew Tavarelli. An important aspect of Tavarelli's drawings is interval, also an important aspect of Sproat's constructions. The space between low wattage tubes, ruled edges and divisions of light and dark contributes a sense of order and control. Furthermore, the drawn or painted element often is texturally akin to the light element, which is cool, tranquil and limited to a delicate scale of hue. Or it might serve, even at the same time, as contrast: in the piece called "Sounding," for instance, the strict boundaries of a brushy black half-moon shape play against the loose rhythms of wires leading toward a juncture box.
The relationship of the drawn and the painted to the functional hardware of the wiring systems acts in a different way from this device in the vocabulary of others who explore a "real" object and its artistic image, notably in the work of Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Jim Dine.
Johns, it seems to me, is more concerned with visual and philosophical paradox, Rauschenberg with the incorporation and transformation of junk materials, and Dine with bringing ordinary objects - tools, clothing, and toothbrushes - into his pictures as a species of autobiography. In Sproat's six constructions, the projections of the hardware and junction boxes emphasize, to site Marjory Supovitz, "the duality of the seen and the unseen," the distinction between the lighted areas and the circuits which govern the unseen flow of electricity. The sculptures are patently assembled objects, but they possess mystery because of course we cannot see - at least not in the terms of art - the most significant element of their construction, to wit, the flow of electricity.
Despite such subtleties and a refined mood of ambiguity, the pieces are readily accessible. Indeed some of them allude to natural objects, like "Mantis" and "Loom." It is only an illusion that might derive from the title, though. The sculptures of Christopher Sproat serve as images of an industrial age, transformed by the energies of the imagination into constructions as immaterial as light, as controlled as the design of a snowflake or a sunflower.
ROBERT GARRETT, BOSTON SUNDAY HERALD, SEPT. 12, 1976, P.A25
"CHECK OUT THIS POETRY OF HARDWARE, LIGHTS"
For most of us, there is no poetry in replacing a light bulb, and anything more complicated - the world of electrical wiring, junction boxes, conduits and cold cathodes - is a fearsome technology devoid, it goes without saying, of human emotion.
Along comes Christopher Sproat, a Museum School graduate, to tell us differently.
Sproat was one of the artists forced out of his studio by the disastrous Jamaica Plain factory fire earlier this year, and most of his possessions (including tools and notebooks) were destroyed.
And so, the current show at MIT's Hayden Gallery is a personal victory just in its coming to be. Beyond that, it represents a real budding of his ideas.
Imagine a Pop artist using electric tubing and hardware "Eat at Joe's" would be scrawled in neon across the gallery wall and you have imagined the opposite of a Chris Sproat. Sproat's messages are spoken quietly, in a language of geometric shapes and carefully arranged linear elements.
In fact, a couple of years ago when Sproat exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts, the constructions were so quiet as to hardly exist. Fastidiously crafted tubing and hardware failed to communicate much of anything.
Here, Sproat meets the viewer halfway. Each of the six pieces is "readable," in the sense of revealing a definite (though not always easily definable) mood. If Sproat's work before was esoteric and constrained, these are accessible without losing their subtlety.
One of the strengths of "Made in Hayden" as the exhibit is titled, is that the six pieces were created specifically for this space. There is a consistency to this environment - the similar materials that are used, the subdued geometric shaped drawings that serve as backdrop, the low lighting which contributes to a meditative atmosphere and helps us focus our attention.
Some of these pieces are literal metaphors. In "Loom," wires are deployed in lyrical flourishes, looping in cascades from glowing vertical tubes like fabric on a magical weaving device. The loom, in this case is made of steel and lighting fixtures fastened to a black background. The literal meaning is there, but not entirely necessary, because as an abstract configuration "Loom" has an odd brooding sort of beauty of its own.
Again, in "December," we have a choice between metaphor and a physical appearance, which has its own appeal. Against a large rectilinear backdrop drawn in chalk onto the wall, six slender neon tubes are placed in such a way that they appear to be falling, like incandescent toothpicks. Below, in a tight parallel formation, a series of tubes are penned in by wire and black boxes.
The upper portion of "December" is a dazzling visual treat, contrasting the uniform and constricted arrangement below. As pure design it intrigues. But further, we may see in it a statement about the contradictory nature of mid-winter, the closed- in feeling versus promise of spring, a cold glow vs. a pristine exuberance.
Or, we may extrapolate further into the realm of human experience and talk about the intense joy, say, of a quietly religious person. Such interpretations can be carried too far, but it is a tribute to Sproat's ability that he engineers something evocative out of the commonplace. In 'Mantis," Sproat allows his transformers and steel tubing to consort with reality, constructing a giant insect with an incandescent light for a head. This witty little piece has a companion and structure a -"Home of Mantis"- every good figment (filament?) of the imagination deserves a home.
These pieces would seemingly be limited to a gallery situation- an abstract painting can hang in a building or home, but Sproat's work is of a specialized, art for art nature.
However, after the show closes on October 3rd one of the sculptures will be installed somewhere on the MIT campus, through the efforts of the university's adventurous committee on the visual arts. Watch out, world; watch out for this poetry of hardware and lights.
MARC GERSTEIN, UNIVERSITY OF RHODE ISLAND, NOV. 1976
In recent years, the range of possibilities for sculpture with regard to methods, materials, and situations has vastly increased. Christopher Sproat, one of the finer sculptors working today, has developed within this increased range to produce sculptures, which are compelling in their strength and rigor and touching in their quietude and lyricism. He employs materials, which are unusual within the general tradition of sculpture: light tubes, electrical wires, transformers, junction boxes, metal conduits, and other electrical hardware. The materials chosen are functional or practical in the electrical system of a building, but Sproat assembles them in ways quite different from those, which are typical and expected. His additive method has its roots in the tradition of modern constructed sculpture. Sproat, however, retains seemingly unaltered, the identity of the manufactured electrical parts. The pieces of hardware are chosen and juxtaposed for their physical properties of size, shape, weight, texture and color. The factualness of the materials, their appearance as unaltered and untouched electrical hardware, gives the sculpture a familiarity for the viewer. This familiarity becomes a means to render the abstractness of the works convincing and accessible.
Sproat's materials have surfaces, which are clean and machine-produced. They are selected, in part, for their coolness and for their textures and colors. The textures of galvanized steel, enameled metal, coated wire, paint, and glass are subtly contrasted. Their colors: gray, white, silver, and black, are quietly related to one another in delicate shifts of value rather than in contrast of hue. The yellowish illumination of the incandescent light tubes ethereally harmonizes with the range of values. No one tone is permitted to stand out in dramatic contrast, to dominate the close-nit ensemble of values. The wall itself, to which the elements are attached, is painted black or gray. These large, simple, geometrical areas behind the sculptural elements act as foils for the shapes and masses of the three-dimensional parts. They tend to indicate the limits of lateral and vertical extension of a piece. They subtly reinforce the configurations and behind the elements into a more tightly integrated composition.
Sproat is sensitive to the situation of his pieces. Usually, he carefully considers the space in which a work is to be seen. In the generation of a piece, he works with an awareness of the kind of space in which it will be located. His works are made to relate to and activate a particular site; they are made to utilize and involve within themselves the walls and floor of the viewing location. The sculptures exploit the right- angled spaces ubiquitous to daily experience and are compositionally oriented toward perpendicularity. The drawing produced by the curves and angles of the tubes, rods, and wires gain its force or delicacy by its deviations from the dominant horizontals and verticals.
The sculptures are built out from the wall. They penetrate into the viewer's space and extend onto the surface on which the viewer stands. The protruding parts of the sculpture delimit its physical boundaries and draw into it the space in front of the wall. Despite this outward expansion, each work is closed and self-contained, and remains strongly tied to the wall surface. The sculptures face and confront the viewer, withholding their interior spaces from the viewer's physical access.
Sproat's use of light, however, has an effect contrary to the self-containment of the physical elements of a piece. The light tubes themselves are elements in the organization of masses. Yet the light, which they produce, functions conversely to dematerialize the solidity, weight, and bulk of the sculpture and to expand the space, which it engages. The sole illumination of the gallery space comes from the sculptures themselves. The darkened space is inflected, molded, and energized by the light, which probes beyond the physical limits of the work. It envelops and bathes the viewer in its immaterial presence. It becomes the impalpable medium of continuity between the physically self-contained masses of the sculpture and the discrete identity of the viewer. Light becomes a quietly lyrical infusion, and atmospheric counterpoint to the rigorous interrelationship of the material forms.
The contrast of masses of light expresses the dialectic of Sproat's sculptures between closed and open composition, containment and expansion, denseness and weightlessness, materiality and ethereality. The forms are machine-produced yet their juxtaposition and integration declare the humanizing imagination of the artist. Sproat's work is concerned with sculptural problems, but is foremost a deeply affecting expression of feeling and poetry.
KENNETH BAKER, "ELECTRICITY AS MEANS AND METAPHOR ? CHRISTOPHER SPROAT SHORT CIRCUITS", THE BOSTON PHOENIX, PP. 12, 23, SEPT. 21, 1976
MIT's Hayden Gallery is currently showing an ensemble of works conceived and constructed in the gallery space by local sculptor Christopher Sproat. Sproat continues to work, as he has in the past, with light, electric current and their attendant hardware. What's new in this show is his graphic handling, with black paint and gray chalk, of the wall surfaces. He's described his new work as "more pictorial," in that marking directly on the wall broaches a non-literal, visual space that plays a part in each piece.
Sproat was a victim of last February' Jamaica Plain factory fire, in which he lost not only his home but also his materials and documentation of past accomplishments. Having followed his work for several years (he has shown fairly regularly in the Boston area), I was curious to see whether it had changed since the fire, whether the fire had made a difference in the artist's sensibility.
The only apparent change is a newly somber emotional tone ? though it might be possible to argue as well that his new work seeks a more intimate, more transgressive relation with its site than his earlier pieces did. However, the inference that an experience of loss accounts for these changers is one the uninformed spectator would not be likely to make. And in work like Sproat's, what might count as a change in sensibility, or as the expression of one, is not easy to determine. Sproat has chosen a fairly inflexible sculptural vocabulary and draws again and again upon standard electrical fixtures, some of which, the neon and fluorescent lights, make visible the current that all his work taps in some way.
The use of light as an element integral to his work tends to stress its factual presence and materiality. The light sources Sproat employs do not illuminate so much as to locate, like signs. They betoken the specificity of the work and of its site. In these pieces the graphic treatment of the wall plays with the specificity of the site. For while the placement of the various fixtures and physical elements is quite definite, the pictorial treatment of the wall suggests a placeless ness typical of illusionism. The most effective example of this is "Sounding." Here a large semi-circle has been grayed with chalk. At the top of this semi-circle, along a diameter parallel to the floor, are two sets of lights: blue horizontals with white bands at their centers. From the ends of these lights, four lengths of electrical conduit snake upward across the wall to a large junction box close to the ceiling. Viewed from a reasonable distance, the conduits seem to come from behind the gray shape as well as from above it. The pictorial element is made to seeing the most visually present part of the work. The conduits read as if they were marks, sinuous lines, without ever really disavowing their physicality. The gray shape sits like a bowl, as if on the floor ? like something placed, not drawn where it is.
In an adjacent piece, "Home of Mantis," symmetrical black areas painted on the wall combine with symmetrical hardware attached to the wall to enforce an illusion of depth, of a gap like the space between swinging doors when pushed open. This gap is crossed by a length of blue neon that denies this illusion by the light it casts on the wall behind and that reinforces the illusion by means of its gentle, draping curve. Beyond their dark feeling (the light in a couple of pieces and seems swallowed by the areas of gray or black), the sculptures communicate very little. This sinister visual aspect is, unfortunately, not integrated with what is, for me, their sinister implication. For what Sproat's works make visible seems less important, especially when you hear the electrical hum in the gallery, than the invisible network to which they are all connected, the energy grid we all take for granted. The meditative aspect of this work inevitably sets me to thinking about the network of electrical energy subtending the visible structure of the place, of which Sproat's work seems to be an especially aesthetic outcropping. His willingness to use the conductive hardware as both structural necessity and aesthetic material is somewhat not acknowledgment enough of the vast implications of the system he draws upon. The industrial origins of so much of his material, even of electrical current itself, are a matter he does not deal with in any way that is apparent to me. The implications of using such obviously fabricated and standardized materials are a matter few sculptors have been able to deal with.
David Smith, who worked in a mode radically different from Sproat's, is the sculptor who perhaps first made his ambivalence to the industrial origins of his material a theme in his work. Smith saw modern industry in general as sublimated munition, as what made modern warfare not only possible but necessary. His attitude was formed during the Second World War. Today, when we think we are at peace, the structure of business and industry implies, more simply, an oppressive system of compulsive labor. The invisible network of energy supply, in addition to making contemporary industry possible, is rich with metaphorical possibilities that Sproat seems to overlook. An example would be novelist Thomas Pynchon's use of electrical systems in The Crying of Lot 49 as a metaphor for the submerged patterns of significance in experience that drive his heroine to distraction, and for their suggestion of invisible system of totalitarian control.
It may not seem fair to introduce a literary example in a discussion of sculpture, but it seems to me that Sproat' access as a sculptor, to the metaphorical uses of electrical mystery are even more direct than a writer's. His apparent failure to consider the metaphorical possibilities of his material, or his failure to make such considerations clear, is a serious shortcoming of his work, depriving it of a power that seems within the artist's reach. It is easy to overlook, for instance, that the pieces in the Hayden show are interconnected by their drawing on the same electrical system. The inflection given the problem of site by the pervasiveness and invisibility of electrical systems is something else he might fruitfully deal with but does not. In short, Sproat's show seems not to take advantage of resources of meaning that the work itself makes available. (The show continues through Oct. 2)
ROBERT TAYLOR, "THREE SCULPTORS SOLVE MUSEUM'S PROBLEM", BOSTON SUNDAY GLOBE, DEC, 11, 1977 (selected portions of a review of "Locations" show at the Rose Art Museum, Brandies Univ.) (Artists: John Christian Anderson, Christopher Sproat, and Hera)
Although they are fundamentally different in their sensibility, they share certain common characteristic ties? a feeling for illusionism and ritual.
When I say illusionism I don't use the word in its customary sense ? an illusory reproduction of a natural object. Sproat's is an illusionism of space; his work upstairs presents a ribbon of horizontal red-orange light, which expands through window reflections into the woods around the museum.
The sculptures upstairs contrast interestingly with those in the more enclosed space is below. Sproat's has grandeur. The wall is huge, a gray field of gestural charcoal-like strokes looming as a ground against the delicate filament of horizontal tubing with its intense color and electrical supports. The color of the tube radiates into the surrounding space, refracted by the glass cases and windows. The effect is one of impressive scale?
If openness is a stressed upstairs, all three sculptors have elected to regard to the lower floor as an enclosure ? a crypt. Here the mood is eerie, claustrophobic. Sproat's piece is rigid and hierarchic, a matte black wall punctuated by vertical chill blue neon, the glossy black fixtures mixed with transparent plastic boxes containing fragments of bone. The boxes and their fossilized contents and two flanking wooden structures ? which could be very high narrow thrones, but are non-functional as furniture in a pyramid's tombed chamber ? supply n unusual dimension. Sproat is an artist whose formal elegance is plugged into technology; in this piece he takes a fresh, unexpected direction.
KYRA MONTAGUE, THE BROOKLINE CHRONICLE, THE BRIGHTON- ALLSTON CITIZEN ITEM, DEC. 8, 1977
"Locations" at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University until Dec. 23rd is a three-person show, designed especially for installation in the Museum.
The artists all live in the Boston area, Hera, originally from Texas and New Orleans, came here with inflatable ideas about four years ago. She has shown at various galleries and outdoor locations and had a major installation piece at the ICA last year. Chris Sproat went to the MFA School, received one of their 5th year traveling fellowships some years back, and has exhibited at the ICA and the MFA as well as elsewhere. He was one of the many artists dislocated by the Jamaica Plain factory fire.
John Christian Anderson comes from Los Angeles. He is the youngest of the three and although he has exhibited in several west coast shows, I believe this is his first exposure in this area. I found the show provocative, stimulating and affecting on many levels. Having recently complained about the pretentiousness engendered by 'site' shows, I should eat my words in this case. Chris Sproat in particular has met the 'site' challenge beautifully. Because it is so well designed for the location, I wish the show had been entirely his. The flaw in this exhibition is that the other work is not compatible and interferes with the unity Sproat achieves between architectural space and his own ideas.
Hera's "Death Singer" unintentionally becomes an aggravating intrusion, which interrupts the serenity and reflections of Sproat's "Palace at Mantis". It is unfair to both of them, because I also enjoyed and admired Hera's work more than ever. It is simply that the proximate presence of her lugubrious "Death Singer" made me feel slightly frantic - the way tour guides do when they hang around trying to distract you and take control of your perceptions.
Sproat has two major pieces in the show. Upstairs, "Fire and Ash" is a cool and dazzling piece. Covering the entire rear wall, the bottom half is painted black, and the upper part rubbed rhythmically with gray graphite. A red neon tube crosses the black, horizontally, just about waist level. In late afternoon, when it gets dark, the red not only glows but resonates through reflections in the windows and walls opposite the work. It is dramatic and economical as a statement. It transforms the whole environment but is "cool" enough so that the excitement it provides is subtle. A central stairwell built over a reflecting pool leads downstairs to Sproat's other piece, "Palace at Mantis". It is also on the back wall. This is a more complex but (in this sense of balance and economy of means to achieve the desired effect), equally "classic" work. The band of gray at the top of the wall is smaller, leaving black as the predominant background, and it continues around the corners, thereby framing the main wall. Here the black is divided vertically into sections by double bands of pale blue neon. Small Plexiglas boxes, contemporary reliquaries, each containing a fragment of bird skeleton, are mounted in these sections. At either end, in front of the side panels, two very tall but tiny throne-like chairs face each other solemnly.
The overall effect is one of mystery and controlled power. It is reminiscent of the sensation of awe and formality one feels in the presence of important ruins where the spiritual function of spatial sequence and order makes an indelible subconscious imprint on the mind. Sproat intended the piece to reflect in the pool and to thereby regain possession of the whole space.
Despite the disadvantage of competing idioms and intent, the very different personalities are interesting. Hera's "Sweet Skirt" which fortunately has a room to itself, is one of her more delightful and successful didactic pieces. It consists of a wonderfully elaborate, painstakingly fabricated, white tulle "skirt" decorated with nosegays, feathers and ribbons, which surrounds an inner skirt or slip of pink taffeta, lined with babies, nipples and contraceptive ironies. They fill the room and hang from hoops suspended from the ceiling so they cover you from head to knee. You enter them like a maze (as in her piece at the ICA last year) fumbling along through claustrophobic layers.
It is a feminist 'coup de grace', simultaneously visceral, poignant, witty, charming and outrageous. Her ironic sensibility is also evident in "Death Singer". A purple velvet funeral shroud actually festooned with lilies, wraps around a wood "coffin"- like structure, whose top is a burial mound of sand luridly illuminated with candles. It sustains a kind of sickening fascination, which attracts you, to investigate and then turns out to be farcical. Hera is not always funny, but when her sense of wit and our irony have full play, they carry the punch of a superb cartoon.
The entrance to the museum is festooned with a blue vinyl swag. It is interesting and theatrical on a temporary basis and lends the place a celebratory air.
John Christian Andersen is over exposed in this company. He has a nice feel for an environmental approach and apparently a lively energy and mind. In this show, his work seems derivative of others of its kind, and unfortunately lacking the authority of touch and purpose so evident now with Sproat and Hera.
SALLY YARD - EXHIBITION CATALOG ? JOHN ROY, CHRISTOPHER SPROAT ? GEORGE WALTER VINCENT SMITH ART MUSEUM, SPRINGFIELD, MASSACHUSETTS. JULY 14- SEPTEMBER 3, 1978
"The Ambient Art of Christopher Sproat"
Christopher Sproat's work is "environmental" or "ambient"; it projects into the space of the viewer as do some Abstract Expressionist paintings and dominates surrounding space more forcefully than does most object sculpture. In the past decade there has developed a significant international tradition of environmental art, including the work of such diverse artists as Robert Irwin, Bruce Nauman, Richard Long, Mario Merz, and Joseph Beuys. Designed for specific places and often temporary, installation pieces activate and transform the spaces in which they are located.
Constant throughout most of Sproat's work is the element of the light - most often neon, although he has also used incandescent and fluorescent light. Sproat's interest in light is for its ethereal, mysterious qualities rather than its "strip" or Pop associations. The possibilities of subtle but intense luminosity led Sproat to first incorporate electric light in his art in 1966.
Pieces such as those done by Sproat at the Parker Street 470 Gallery in Boston in 1972 and at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts' "Rohm/Sproat" exhibition of 1974 were "skeletal" and horizontal, following the basic planes of floor and wall. The peace at Parker Street 470 Gallery was in fact floor- bound and splayed like Giacometti's "Woman with Her Throat Cut" of 1932. The pieces of these years involved an explicit exposure of electrical hardware and fixtures. In this they reflected the natural elegance of the large open loft space in which Sproat lived and worked, and in which structural elements were frankly left unconcealed. These skeletal works had an appearance of lightness, reflecting Sproat's interest at this time in "dematerializing" sculpture, a medium traditionally involved with material concerns. As his interests shifted toward a stronger physicality in his pieces, Sproat worked with increasingly heavy metal parts. Despite this shift of intention and means, the pieces continued to seem somewhat insubstantial.
In 1975 in an exhibition at the Harcus Krakow Rosen Sonnabend Gallery in Boston, a piece called Pairing extended from the floor and wall to the ceiling, and Sproat incorporated a horizontal band of chalk drawing executed directly on the wall. Sproat was in this way able to achieve a feeling of weight, by working with the implications of drawing and light rather than dealing with actual physical bulk. The medium of electric light is itself clearly a medium of implication and illusion. It is precariously ephemeral and utterly fragile. Since the introduction of drawing in 1975, Sproat's pieces have developed a strong verticality. With the introduction of "chairs" in Family Portrait of 1977 there emerged a suggestion of anthropomorphic presences.
There is in all of Sproat's work a precision in the handling of details. Sproat uses standardized as well as specially fabricated parts. While it is his intention to use the most direct, straightforward solution, there are whimsical solutions as well. The use of alligator clips in Plasma and Alligators of 1977 is a gently humorous arrangement of lively, almost animate connectors biting the wires they join. The wires, metal and glass tubes, transformers and junction boxes assume compositional as well as functional roles in Sproat's work. Transformers are in some works (Ripple, 1977) visibly contained in clear boxes; in other's (Stance, 1977) they are concealed in opaque boxes, serving as compositional weights, which do not distract the eye. Coiled, taut or slack wires serve as linear elements in such works as Sleep (1975), December (1976) and Field (1977). The historic lineage for the inclusion of such mundane, "non-art" elements in art descends from the dual sources of Dada ready-mades and constructions and Cubist collage, through the assemblages of Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, to the recent proliferation of artworks incorporating non-art materials and techniques.
Sproat has used the lines of illuminating tubing in varied ways. In Pairing, light emphasized and echoed the clean architectural lines of the gallery. In Palace at Mantis, installed at the Rose Art Museum in 1977, double bands of vertical blue neon tubes established an architectural bay rhythm consistent with that of the museum, organizing space with geometric regularity and creating a processional rhythm. In Fire and Ash, also at the Rose Art Museum in 1977, neon was used to create a floating horizontal line of fiery, orange-red color. Sproat coerces from the potentially lurid or garish medium of neon both an evanescent subtlety of light and an intense clarity of line.
Sproat has long been interested in the inventive, imaginative possibilities of technological solutions. But in the last three years, since his introduction of chalk and pastel drawing, and wall painting, the exposure of wires and hardware has become less emphatic than in such earlier works as Sleep of 1975. In Fire and Ash, Palace at Mantis, Stance and Field, Sproat' drawing is a rhythmic activation of surface, intended to give the space a sense of "touch". This method of agitating an area and conveying a sense of the hand's activity contrasts with the stillness with which it coexists in much of Sproat's work.
The large-scale drawings, which cover the walls of Attic and Empire State, the two installation pieces in the present exhibition, are geometric. A development of the past year, these geometric drawings recall the patterns found in primitive arts. The origin of the particular "module" of these recent drawings can be traced to the floorboards of Sproat's loft on the Boston Waterfront where he lived until his recent move to New York. Sproat's rectilinear patterns relate to carpentry, in fact. Planned at room scale, they become actual size analogs for a kind of fantasy construction. Architectural in size and reference, their challenge is the achievement of a freshness and intricacy of solution. For Sproat the particular approach of these drawings parallels certain aspects of music, especially Japanese koto music and Balinese and Javanese gamelan, in the rhythmic use of theme, repetitions and slight alterations. Lacking curvilinear elements, the geometric drawings create an impression of having been "built". Their handling in black chalk leaves a residue of smudges, thereby conveying a sense of touch, the hewn quality of the drawings contrasting with the sleek precision of electrical elements. Sproat draws or paints almost exclusively in black and white; color is reserved for the enveloping light, which washes over and paints the surfaces. The somber spare ness of this palette recalls black and white African textiles, and creates a sense of solemn grandeur.
The inclusion in the last two years of "chairs" in Sproat's work marks a shift of mood. The size and proportion of the chairs deny their role as seating elements. They are sculptures, which resist straying very far from the everyday objects to which they allude. The first chair was small (roughly 1 ? feet tall), with the square, wholesome proportions of a child's chair. It developed into the piece called Family Portrait (1977), an arrangement of three chairs. Sproat has since constructed chairs of widely different characters ? ranging from Ernst-like thrones to attenuations recalling Giacometti's The Invisible Object of 1934. They create a sense of presences or absences, assuming a totemic rigidity in Palace at Mantis and conveying a haunting sense of emptiness or loss in Absence (1978), an installation piece at the Lamont Gallery.
In Absence chairs assumed a more ponderous role. Four eight-foot high chairs with, with seats 42 inches above the floor, dwarfed the viewer, creating a confusion and fantasy of scale. The chairs were of normal proportions, austere in their flat black finish and stern rectilinearity. The feeling created was of a child's malaise and sense of vulnerability in a dark formal dining room, with unapproachably high chairs. Ten parallel red neon tubes, also 42 inches above the floor, and about five feet apart, created a low, table- like plane, activating and illuminating the space and enforcing the distance between the chairs. The plane created by the parallel lines of light intensified the spatial malaise, eliciting a physical timidity and caution. One sensed in Absence an empty banquet. The room and chairs remained poignantly devoid of anyone of suitable stature and scale.
In Palace at Mantis, a work closely related to those of the present exhibition, two throne-like, impossibly tall, foreshortened chairs, facing each other from opposite ends of the gallery, presided over what came to seem a long space. Ordered by vertical bands of neon, the space looked like a "skeletal architecture". Two Plexiglas boxes containing bones were screwed into the walls, which had been painted and drawn on. These bones, which recall the skeletal bird of Giacometti's The Palace at 4 A.M. of 1932 ? 33, are actually fish bones gathered along beaches. They were included as found objects of archeological interest. Mysterious relics of extraordinary delicacy, they were selected for their marvelous survival, having somehow eluded the leveling forces of the sea. The tall chairs of Palace at Mantis, Egyptian in their rigidity, anticipate studies for Empire State and Attic. In these studies the tall, narrow chairs are even more drastically foreshortened. To Sproat these light, upward aspiring forms are like Gothic cathedrals. Such slender and insubstantial structures parallel Sproat's use of light ? hovering in space without actually filling it.
Ghost (1978) contains two large chairs like those of Absence, one white and one black. These are accompanied by a brief text, an account of a dream involving the death of the artist's father and the destruction of his studio and work. It is a simple eloquent work of art expressing a profound sense of loss. There is a formality about Sproat's work, which results in part from the careful calculation of intervals of space and from his pieces' resistance to touch. Although we literally move through the works, enveloped by their sensuous luminosity, there remains a subtle tension. The hum of electricity announces its fairly perilous power. We did not wish to touch the neon tubing or wires, nor should we touch the flat black chairs in a work such as Absence. A sense of almost hierarchic fixity prevails, enforcing a feeling of timelessness and inalterability.
The text of the dream for Ghost:
I woke up one morning after spending the night in my car, which was parked behind my parent's house in Lexington. The first thing that I noticed was that someone had opened the garage door, and had smashed all my old sculptures. The sculptures, made during my late teens, were very large, and made of plaster. My first thought was that my mother had done it, although I knew that I was not yet thinking rationally. I also didn't see how she could do that while I was asleep ? it would make such a racket. I then noticed that it looked as if fairly sizable portions of the sculptures were missing ? pieces weighing 50-100 pounds had somehow been carried off. I went into the house, which was in utter shambles. Everything of value was gone, and everything that was not was destroyed. When I reached the top of the stairs to the second floor, I encountered my mother who was ringing her hands. She said, "They took everything". At that point, I realized that the whole house had been systematically and miraculously robbed and destroyed while we slept. I started to search for items that might have been missing, when the doorbell rang. Hoping it would be the culprit, I rushed down the stairs and out the front door, no one was there, but as I stood on the stoop, a concerned neighbor was coming across the long. It was then that my father came out of the house and stood next to, and a little behind me. I was very surprised to see him, because he had just died very suddenly, from acute leukemia. In this dream, he was in his early 30s, or about my age. The neighborhood looked the way it did after the hurricanes in the '50s.
EXHIBITION TEXT BY NICOLAS CALAS, MARIAN GOODMAN GALLERY, NY, NY., DECEMBER 1980
Christopher Sproat says that for him "furniture is a depository for associations and meanings, a devise which evokes presence and absence in an architectural world." To the diagonals of Artschwager he opposes an outward thrust tending to catapult the rooms occupants into the world of action. In a series of furniture silhouettes painted or built against the wall, Sproat projects a panorama of an interior that is to art today what wall paintings of interiors were for villas of Pompeii.
KAY LARSEN, NEW YORK MAGAZINE, DEC. 1980, P.78
Neon is the only common denominator in Christopher Sproat's dramatic turnabout. Half a decade ago, Sproat draped glowing neon tubing across metal frames or over walls and ceiling in a formal demonstration of the architectural possibilities of line. But like many sculptors of his post minimal generation, Sproat is now trying something new - allegory. His first one-man show in New York is spooky but strong. A single band of neon circles the gallery walls at about eye level, marking off a "blue horizon". Under the line drawn by the neon is an assortment of symbols: black hands, black ladders that end in spikes or feet, tall black and white chairs, and a swimming pool drawn on the wall in blue chalk. What do they mean? According to Sproat, they are in the strange furniture of five menacing domestics scenes that represent "man's thwarted attempts to escape the real to the ideal". Perilously pictorial, these neon cartoons resemble nothing on 57th Street.
SUZANNE SLESIN, THE NEW YORK TIMES, HOME SECTION, FEB.12, 1981
"BLURRING THE BOUNDARIES BETWEEN ART AND FURNITURE"
Artists see the potential of furniture in different ways, some, like Christopher Sproat, stress it's expressive rather than its useful aspects.
"An artist may have none of the practical points of view in mind, and his furniture may or may not be for seating," Said Mr. Sproat. His strange works include chairs, tables and ladders. Inspired by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Joseph Hoffmann, the chairs are exaggerated and elongated; the coffee table has spiky protrusions - not the kind of piece that would be welcomed at a genteel tea party.
JOHN CALDWELL, THE NEW YORK TIMES, SUNDAY, JUNE 14, 1981
"SCULPTURE AND SITE BLEND AT WAVE HILL"
Christopher Sproat's "Contemplating Croquet" is a reference to the gentility of Wave Hill's past. An elegantly curved bench that would be almost impossible to sit on comfortably has before it a table that is too low, too large and too distant to be of any possible use. They are flanked by a croquet set of a design so eccentric it is totally without function and oddly shaped wickets arranged in a circle. The whole thing is white, and it is an elegant tribute to a past that can never be retrieved.
KAY LARSEN, NEW YORK MAGAZINE, JUNE 1981, P.53
On a sedate green lawn is one of Christopher Sproat's best works ? a giant, dangerous- looking "couch" and table of white fiberglass, fronting on a ritual circle of white stakes, and a pair of misshapen croquet mallets -a game in which the rules have been ominously manipulated.
CHRISTOPHER SPROAT, ARTIST'S STATEMENT FOR "TABLEAUX" CATALOG, WAVE HILL, BRONX, NY. MAY 15 ? OCT. 18, 1981
The inclusion of art into a space whether interior or exterior presents a theater for vicarious experience.
At Wave Hill the stage has been set by a generation of nobility that may no longer exist in North America. It is in reference to this lost grandeur that the meaning of this tableau is modulated. Seemingly masquerading as nostalgia, the intention is to locate between forms of the past and a present notion of existence. This garden party is an illusion of comfort, wealth, order, and classical form. In reality, the couch is only marginally comfortable, the tools are unusable, and the rules have been altered to form a configuration that is too self-involved to afford active participation.
JOHN PERREAULT, ARTFORUM, APRIL 1981, P.31, 32
"NOT ALL CHAIRS ARE EQUAL"
???.. Although Nicholas Calas' selections in "Further Furniture" were marred by the inclusion of too many works that are simply not furniture but rather comments on furniture, there were enough works to indicate that something most interesting and problematic is happening in art: Christopher Sproat's Tone Chair, Scott Burton's Circle/ Square/ Triangle Table, Robert Guillot's Reclining Chair. (But where were R.M. Fischer's zany lamps?)
JEANNE SILVERTHORNE, "TABLEAUX", WAVE HILL, ARTFORUM, NOVEMBER, 1981, P.86
Next we have Christopher Sproat's stylized croquet game, all its components white and skewed. They are actually slanted. The peculiarly curved park bench, whose contours imitate the "open pages of a book" (the program again) or a picture-frame molding, has what can fairly be described as wildly mitered corners, while the hoops all resemble the sign for pi. It's as if the geometrical obliqueness were the inevitable outcome of filtering the croquet equipment through an extremely idiosyncratic vision of the sport.
MELANIE TAYLOR, JACOB ALBERT, STEPHEN HARBY ? EDITORS ? PERSPECTA 18, THE YALE ARCHITECTURAL JOURNAL, THE MIT PRESS, CAMBRIDGE AND LONDON, 1982, PP.84-89
I'm interested in the direction architecture is going - the hybridization of past styles and the expression of something beyond function. I think that similar things are happening in art and that's a good time for art and architecture to remarry. Art should be used as a necessary element in architecture, as integral as glass or concrete. Then there will be a chance for art and architecture to succeed in an architectural setting again.
Before I began to make furniture and lamps, much of my sculpture was made specifically for the place it was going to occupy. I didn't see my pieces as mobile, salable, or applicable to more than one situation. Furniture offers an alternative to specificity and I like the mobility of furniture because it can go to unforeseen places.
My work often straddles the line between sculpture and utilitarian object. Even when I design completely utilitarian objects, I approach them differently from the way an architect would. After all, the sensibility that makes someone an artist is completely different from the sensibility that makes someone an architect. Architects usually design furniture with fabrication in mind. They try to exploit the possibilities of the materials that they're using.
In comparison, when I create furniture, I am interested in invoking an existence beyond function. I approach pieces such as Woolworth Lamp in terms of personal issues and as a means of expressing my personal vision (Illus. 1) I and not interested in hitting an existing market, so in that sense I belong on the periphery of commerce. To me, productivity means realizing a number of different ideas. Rather than spending a great deal of time getting a few pieces mass-produced, I would prefer to execute a great number of pieces in wood.
Whereas most architects approach lighting designed by using stock fixtures, artist might add a unique or idiosyncratic configuration to lighting design. Pieces like the Torf Installation provide a functional level of illumination while delineating space and dramatizing their architectural settings (Illus. 5).
I am involved with the creation of a new cultural vision, the development of the consistent aesthetic, which encompasses all aspects of art and environment. A shortcoming of Post-Modernism is that it often glibly pastiches past styles; the imaginative frontier is not developed forward. Our task is to parallel Egyptian, Persian and Assyrian cultures. The aesthetic, which I envision, is a synthesis of historical aesthetics, but it has to have its own character, reflecting our concept of present and future.
My aesthetic is moonlit rather than sunlit; it has been described by some as "electromyhtic". It applies to gallery installations, drawings, furniture and light sculptures. If it has analogues in literature, they would be Kafka, C. S. Lewis and Sartre.
Installations allow total control of the gallery situation. Palace at Mantis is one example of how I fuse walls, lighting, furniture and sculpture into one coherent aesthetic, (Illus. 6). I like the poetic injustice of installations because it is similar to the temporality of life, but I ideally would like to create a permanent contained environment, possibly as a room or small wing of the museum that would embody values and provide coherent aesthetic experience.
One influence, which led me to apply a cohesive vision to my work, was the Maight Museum in Nice. I saw a Miro show there and the grounds, the quality of light and the entire environment meshed so perfectly that it made an indelible impression. Similarly various special environments in museums, such as is the Egyptian section of the Boston Museum, have a strong emotional impact on me. The aesthetic experience provided by such environments is the modern person's equivalent of religious experience.
JOHN CALDWELL, THE NEW YORK TIMES, SUNDAY, DEC. 13, 1981
"CHAIRS AND MORE CHAIRS"
???Overall, however, the success of this large show- more than 100 works by 53 artists- must come from the high level of quality of the art that has been assembled. Christopher Sproat's "Tone Chair", for instance, though it looks functional and even quite comfortable, is such an exquisite structure of spare geometric shapes that one's eye almost insists upon seeing it as pure sculpture.
NANCY PRINCENTHAL, ART NEWS, SEPTEMBER 1983, PP. 194, 198.
Without being figurative, sculpture can exert a human presence simply by virtue of its scale, weight and spatial thrust. This fundamental option for work in three dimensions has been neglected for so long that its recent conspicuous reemergence has the force of a revelation. The collective vitality in this group exhibition of mostly new works by Ursula Von Rydingsvard, Steve Wood, James Ford, John Duff, Christopher Sproat and Nancy Grossman supports the prediction of art-world observers that sculpture was bound to upstage painting sometime soon.
"Vitality" is a word used here advisedly. The quiet animation of almost all the work gives it a character quite distinct from the melding of matter and spirit attempted by environmental and process artists.
??????in Sproat's Vortex, Two graceful strokes of red neon articulate the soaring black presence of Sproat's work, which presides over the gallery space like an angel of death. The coolest piece of engineering here, Vortex nevertheless shares with the other work shown the ability to suggest a figure without illustrating it.
GRACE GLUECK, THE NEW YORK TIMES , 12-16-1983
Christopher Sproat (Bette Stoller Gallery, 13 White Street): A gift for elegant stylization is shown by Christopher Sproat in sculptures, mostly of black-painted wood and neon tubing, which take off from animal and insect motifs. From pieces of neon tubing and a simple forked structure of wood, he evokes the head of a steer; a pointed elliptoid of wood accented by a straight neon tube and underpinned by a jagged configuration of slats makes a determined-looking insect. An exceptionally handsome piece is ''Black Bird,'' a long, horizontal line of neon tubing framed in black wood and accented by winglike forms placed along it in rhythmic alternations of angle. Other works include a chair made of triangles, like an Origami cutout; an ingenious chandelier of two trusslike forms in a cross, and several large drawings, in which robot figures are built of white girderlike elements on black paper. But Mr. Sproat is more interesting in 3-D. (Through Dec. 30.)
CHRISTINA RITCHIE & LORIS CALZOLARI, PHOENIX ? NEW ATTITUDES IN DESIGN, (A BOOK - 121 pages) ACCOMPANYING A TRAVELING EXHIBITION ? "PHOENIX: AN EXHIBITION OF NEW DESIGN WORKS" 1984
Artist's statement p.79, (another photo on p.71)
In looking at the history of culture, my strongest artistic experiences have been of ancient Egyptian and African art. The Egyptians, with their obsessed preparation for the next life, presented a constant aesthetic attitude, a stolid composure, that is most satisfying in our world of frenetic uncertainty. The Africans, apart from being the most inventive sculptors, celebrated existence as magical, whereas we focus primarily on monetary concerns. In these cultures, only the major themes ? life, death and magic ? fuel the art. Since the popular cultures that surround me, from the conformist middle-class (obsessed with comfort) to the high style designer (obsessed with luxury), have little bearing within this context, I have formulated an alternative culture, parallel to our own, which celebrates the needs of life while indicating the threat of death.
To make this vision of an alternative culture real, it is necessary to equip it with the utilitarian necessities of life while providing a consistent aesthetic vantage point. The objects are the archeological groundwork; the viewer is left to conjecture about the parallels to our own society, or to see a critical foil.
The development of this culture came about as a result of recent art movements, as well as a need to translate a worldview into a model form. I advocate art with content or reference. The environmental approach is an effective way of intensifying the message because the artist can assault the viewer with a number of sensory experiences at the same time. Even the most popular art form of all, rock music, has added TV to enhance its effect. In order to accommodate my utilitarian needs as well as my aesthetic notions, the obvious solution was to make my own furniture. As a result, I have never bought any furniture and don't own anything I haven't made. After making my own, I realized that furniture can be as evocative as the human figure, and that its existence suggests an absence of being.
From the body of utilitarian furniture, a new body of furniture arose with the purpose of veering into the territory of art. At this point one short note that the critical division for me between art and design is that design aims at solving the functional problem by a clever manipulation of material and fabrication procedures, aimed for the mass marketplace. Art concerns itself with the evocative aspects of the object; considerations for its function and marketability are subservient to the aesthetic principle.
The existential artists may have lost their audience as far as any mystic involvement is concerned, but through beauty, some of that magical thrill may be touched. There is a theme for art to address, and it must go beyond the frivolous, clever and entertaining.
JUDITH HOOS FOX, FURNITURE, FURNISHINGS: SUBJECT AND OBJECT, MUSEUM OF ART, RHODE ISLAND SCHOOL OF DESIGN, 1984, (A CATALOGUE FOR A TRAVELING EXHIBITION) PP. 9-10
Each of Christopher Sproat's installations is arranged as a mise en scene (cat. No 18a-f). Frontal in orientation, set against a flat background, Sproat's crisp, elegant components - chair like forms, apparatuses emitting cool light, photographs, etc. - await the arrival of the troupe of actors. Sproat's set-like installations are built up of from a vocabulary of singular objects, which have an inception and existence outside of their role in the set. Sproat's consistent sensibility enables him to arrange endless variations in creating his tableau. The relationship of his work to performance art and theater is formal and allusive rather than actual.
? "We look backward at history and tradition to go forward". These words, from a book that was lying on the sofa in Ron Fisher's studio, have meaning for his work, as well as for Christopher Sproat's and Jim Isermann's. All three artists create forms that join views of the future with memories of the past. This peculiar iconographic blend has gained wide visibility through such movies as "The Return of the Jedi" where primeval and medieval imagery is fused with that of the twenty-first century. Sproat's historical sources range from archaic Greek to Art Deco; the syncopated and echoing rhythms in his three-dimensional works and his drawings sometimes appear futuristic, sometimes ancient. Frontal and often bilaterally symmetrical, Sproat's objects and installations become iconic. They seem to exist within their own time frame, related to both past and future as we usually visualize these abstractions.
CHRISTINE TEMIN, "SPROAT'S FLIGHTS OF FANCY", PERSPECTIVES, THE BOSTON GLOBE, THURSDAY, DEC. 6, 1984
George Lucas, are you listening? Have I got a Christmas present for you ? at the august Boston Athenaeum, of all places. It's a 10-foot-tall wood, paint, brass, neon and acrylic object called simply "Vader," by Christopher Sproat, an artist born and trained in Boston and now living in New York. "Vader" is an abstraction rather than a full-out portrait, all sharp angles with that famous, helmet and a couple of lightning-like tubes of pale, glowing neon representing ? what else? - The Force. The dark lord and a group of related neon and black wood sculptures form Sproat's marvelous installation, "The Silent Studio," at the Athenaeum, 10 1/2 Beacons Street, through Jan. 5th.
Sproat's considerable reputation has been built both on work that is functional ? he's done the dining tables of some of Boston's most important art collectors ? and also on work that seems as if it could be functional, but isn't. There are several machine-like contraptions in the current show which look as if they should do something, but don't: All those Duchampian saw tooth angles suggest the busyness of machinery, but these are nonsense machines whose real purpose is to puzzle or even frighten us. Even their elegance is slightly scary: Consider those crisp, complex contours standing in knife-like, authoritative relief against the pale walls.
The work is intensely theatrical, partly due to the drama of the flat, factual, black matte surfaces played against the neon, partly because of the exaggerated proportions: Chairs have tall backs, like thrones, or impossibly long spindly legs, as in the pair of 1977 "Egyptian Chairs" ? boldly frontal, doll-size seats attached to legs six times as long as a normally proportioned chair.
"Desk /Lamp with Cat Chair" is the only really usable work in this Sproat show. It calls for either a character of Vader-like aggressiveness, or else someone with Walter Mitty visions of grandeur, who is willing to be transformed. The chair is a single folded rectangle of wood, like a bent bookmark, with a pair of triangular forms on top that reads like the cat's ears ? or like the points of a king's crown. The desk is long and lean, with a reading lamp ? a tube of incandescent light - extending all the way across. The braces of the lamp stick out beyond the sides of the desk: They are dangerous, like someone's elbows jutting out in a crowd. To sit in the chair, behind the desk, is to feel power and confidence: In this setting, you could talk back to your boss or take on an IRS examiner.
Sproat's pieces, which are independent of each other yet work together as an eerie installation, invite flights of fancy. In the distinguished surroundings of the Athenaeum they are particularly unsettling, positioned as they are underneath a series of patrician 19th-century portraits. Said gallery director Donald C. Kelly the other day: "It looks like a rocket to the moon and you're dragging your ancestors along".
Sproat will visit the Athenaeum a week from today to give a talk called "A Separate Culture" at 7 pm. For reservations call 227 ? 8112.
NANCY STAPEN, THE BOSTON HERALD, DEC. 27, 1985
"UNIQUE MIX OF FORMS & TOOLS"
With an installation comprised of sculpture, paintings and drawings, Christopher's Sproat has transformed the Barbara Krakow Gallery into an environment of glacial refinement bordering on menace.
If warmth and vulnerability are important elements of your art brew, Sproat will definitely not be your cup of cultural tea. Sproat, and ex-Boston sculptor, is not an artist who could be accused of sloppy techniques; a cool compulsive sleekness dominates his work. Yet he has created an undeniably impressive body of work that is riveting.
Sproat wields his unyielding materials - painted wood, neon tubing and metal - with commanding authority. Inspired by Egyptian and African (particularly Bambara) designs, he has forged an updated version of rarefied elegance - a marriage of the computer's black box and regal classicism. Although Sproat is a sculptor, his thrust is not toward form; contour is his strength, and his rigidly frontal, geometric sculptures gain dramatic presence through stark silhouettes.
When invested with covert threat, these gain an eerie, theatrical power. This is most true of "Manipulator," a typically insect inspired wall relief of black painted wood, metal and cold cathode tubing. Bent into an hourglass parody of the female body, the blue-lit tubes are symmetrically juxtaposed around a triangular wooden "torso." Circular "arms" end in razor-sharp points suggesting a fantastical Amazonian praying mantis. The preternatural combinations of elegance and menace, of abstraction and suggestion meaning, infuse "Manipulator" with tense uncanniness.
Sproat is also capable of whimsy, as the lyrical "Poet" attests. Viewed from the right, it's a Cubist cut- out profile; walking around to the left enables us to see the bard's head split open, revealing bronze connecting rods and a slit of incandescent light - circuits waiting to become sonnets.
DOUG STUART, SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE, "MODERN DESIGNERS STILL CAN'T MAKE THE PERFECT CHAIR", APRIL, 1986, PP.103- 105
Some chairmakers carry the quest for seating splendor to its logical extreme. Pedestrian matters such as sittability, portability, stackability and affordability are irrelevant - what's important is a good throne. In a two-story loft in New York's SoHo district, sculptor Christopher Sproat builds chairs that have been categorized as electromythic, although he prefers the term Gothic Futurism. In paint stained corduroys and sneakers, he shows me around his furniture filled loft as a flock of the zebra finches dart about overhead.
At the four corners of the space stand huge, black wooden chairs, each one of them eight feet tall, reminding me of sentries that stood guard in an Egyptian temple (photo opposite). Near the center of the loft is a set of chairs with diamond-shaped swiveling backs, a black monolithic chair whose back suggests a stylized cat and a long, gilded bench shaped like a dragon. The chairs nearest the walls are covered with drop cloths in deference to the finches.
Sproat says he is trying to fashion a culture parallel to our own, using furniture to flesh out the details. "I've always been moved by ancient African and Egyptian art and the art of the cultures that were complete, consistent esthetic entities," he says. "A lot of things today evoke a compressed middleclass. There's no nobility left. All we have now is nouveau riche. Chairs like mine evoke an empire. People who sit in his chairs he says "will look like little children or Lilliputians on someone else's throne."
GAIL LEVIN, CURATED AND EXHIBITION CATALOGUE, FORECASTS: VISIONS OF TECHNOLOGY IN CONTEMPORARY PAINTING & SCULPTURE, SEPTEMBER 24- OCTOBER 25, 1988
Christopher Sproat imagines a parallel universe of beings that employ a technology similar to our own. His sculptures are their creations: strange shapes and structures which light up or suggest other diverse functions. Sproat's imaginary civilization includes bizarre manipulators, vessels, and other electrified, yet seemingly primitive forms.
I remember one early morning in my childhood year, when it occurred to me to do something I was told never to do? I took what may have been my Hop-a-Long Cassidy jackknife and crouched down for some investigative surgery on electrical extension cord. As it was attached to the wall plug, it wasn't but a fraction of a second before sudden blue-white blast ejected me into a terrified huddle on the other side of my small room. My knife, still in hand, had a nasty chromatic bite nibbled out of it. That was my first experience at being really impressed, and evidently, I haven't gotten over it yet.
The power that resides silently and unseen in an innocuous electric cord continues its attraction as the energy for an array of power tools, a medium for sculpture, and a thematic departure.
Living as we are in a kinetic world of rockets, film, and pop music poses a problem for sculpture. By its nature sculpture stays put, it can easily seem like an inert do-dad. Moving parts and flashing lights are a mindless and predictably boring solution.
It is more effective if the sculpture appears capable of doing or being something. The forms should create an aura that is both foreign and familiar, living and dead. It is the ability of the sculpture to generate clues at the edge of life that ultimately define its holding power. While I am writing a prescription, I should also add that a mood must be the sum total. After all, if the experience does nothing for the soul, it's merely a clever intellectual and to exercise.
Why then do I use of light? Sculpture has always depended on light to be seen. In the sense that we consider a star to be alive because it generates light, and that most life forms depend on light for life, a sculpture seems to come alive if it too emanates light. Further, by incorporating its own light, a sculpture can reverse its traditional passive role and activate both itself and the space around it. As I have a predilection for skeletal structures, light used as the central arterial system becomes as necessary as blood is to bone. Light is also very much a medium our time, not using it would be a tantamount to Michelangelo not using marble. The fact that it has an "on" an "off" speaks directly to or preoccupation with temporality.
Technology has given us the adhesives, materials and machinery to embrace space, to produce perfect geometries with ease, to defy gravity, shearing, cracking and brittleness. The door that was opened allows for physical authority without mass. Our materials and methods have changed, the problem of content continues.
I related the childhood event because it tells modern man's story. Our investigations into every field, not just nuclear and chemical, seem to be backfiring. I am convinced the human race is in the process of decline, and that we are wrecking the earth, as we know it. If my sculptures seem like "Angels of Death" forbidding Gothic amalgamations of flora, fauna and weaponry, and yet hopefully beautiful, it is my escape ? grace before threat.
CHRISTINE TEMIN," POWERFUL ART IN PUBLIC PLACES", THE BOSTON GLOBE, JULY 24, 1990, PP. 49,52.
"Two pieces of public art that have been years in the making have been installed in two of Boston's more conspicuous spaces in the last week or so? and Christopher Sproat's neon sculpture in the Red Line mezzanine of South Station."?" Sproat's piece, which cost about the same and has been in the works for an entire decade, has not, to my knowledge, caused a fuss. People seem to appreciate it, and for the right reasons- for what it does to enliven an otherwise drab space"? "Public art has a responsibility to engage people who don't necessarily read Artforum and talk in an art speak, but public artists have to refrain from under estimating these folks too. They don't necessarily want art that is tame. You couldn't call Christopher Sproat's "Red Lightning" in South Station-another newly installed public art piece in another major urban space-tame. It's a piece of neon art, a medium that still inspires skepticism in some quarters. But it's a challenge the people I encountered in the station the other day seemed willing to meet. An attendant in the station was admiring the piece, saying it made her proud to work there. An electrician who had helped install it, and was working on fixing a small blinking problem it had developed, said it made the otherwise undistinguished space seem warm and homey? " Red Lightning is a 70 by 38 foot spread of red neon tubing on the ceiling of the magazine area where you buy the Red Line subway tickets. The artist has literally put red lines on the Red Line. The neon lines zigzag purposefully, angling
under beans and darting to avoid collision with the recessed lighting fixtures. Their active, antic motion echoes that of the rumbling trains below. The maze of lines also suggests a subway map, a distillation and symbol of the real thing.
"Red Lightning" does indeed warm and unite the space. It serves to bring the ceiling down, giving the impression of making it closer to the people underneath. And it casts a comforting glow on the reddish quarry tile floor. Despite the brightness of the neon, it's a tactful piece rather than a screamy one. It simply does its job-which is to pep up a nothing space, to show that someone cared about it. In the impersonal to-and-fro rush of a subway station, that sort of caring is wonderful to find.
Sproat, by the way, used to live in Boston and now divides his time between New York and Vermont. His South Station commission dates from 1980, and his perseverance and entitles him to a Public Art Hero Award."?
ROBERT TAPLIN, REVIEW - ART IN AMERICA, P.115, SEPTEMBER 1995
Christopher Sproat at Barbara Krakow
Christopher Sproat is a sculptor who is also an accomplished maker of art furniture. He works in wood with minor additions of various metals as well as the occasional small electric light. In his recent installation in the project room at Krakow, one freestanding and four wall-hung wood constructions were interspersed among 32 6-inch-square charcoal drawings, all of which were hung in a close sequence at eye level. A single horizontal line was penciled in below the drawings on all four walls, with a thin wash of creamy yellow paint scum bled in below it. The drawings all had identical frames with the same satiny black finish as the sculptures. The lighting was dim. This dense but refined installation infused the work with a cool elegance that only partly hid its dark emotional undercurrent.
Sproat's sculptures are impeccably crafted totemic constructions, which combine a furniture like sense of utility and finish with a sci-fi, Darth Vaderish sensibility. The best of the lot was Scission (1990), a prickly wall piece in which two bladelike forms slice out above the viewers head like scissors arrested in mid-snip, while long delicately tapering legs arc together below. Sharp prongs jut from the midsection, giving the peace an aggressive but ambiguous sexuality. The female praying mantis's notorious habit of consuming its partner after mating springs immediately to mind. Another piece, Eye (1990), which features a flat disk held between two bent bows of wood, hung horizontally above a group of drawings like a silhouetted spaceship or a black moon rising. Despite their superlative craftsmanship, Sproat's three-dimensional works fall between the familiar modernist signposts of primitivism and Surrealism, a zone long ago domesticated and annexed by vernacular taste. The sculptures juxtaposition with the drawings, however, was unexpectedly suggestive.
The drawings are extremely generalized renderings of landscape and sky motifs drawn with black chalk in a rapid, romantic style reminiscent of Emil Nolde. In their immediacy and expressiveness they initially seemed to stand in sharp contrast to the laboriously crafted sculptures. Sweeping clouds and empty fields of agitated grass, though, meld with abstracted forms similar to some in the sculptures, as if to recapitulate the way we tend to formalize or objectify what we think we're seeing. This ineradicable need we harbor to make something out of our surging response to the spectacle of nature, to somehow give permanence to the momentary sense of ourselves that we see revealed there, is Sproat's true subject. Taken as a whole, his installation conveyed some of the hopelessness with which we long for transcendence.