A recurrent feature in José Pedro Croft’s work is the revisitation of the methods, divisions, caesuras, materials and approaches he employs – a semantic tool that allows him to constantly challenge the apparent similarity that often characterises his sculptures and drawings. Each new sculpture is part of a process that is further deepened by the concurrent questions and issues the development of his work brings about, within an experimental field Croft expands in nearly limitless ways.
That need to experiment is rooted in his ability to resume an action as many times as needed until the founding idea is revealed, via the series of transformations it undergoes during the working process, as a sculpture, that is to say, as the object that is the result of the artistic urge that defines it. As we know, Croft’s formal and material vocabulary is reduced to its bare essentials, but we are also aware that his work, in terms of practice and decision, attains a level of amplitude that allows him to rediscover it with each new piece, always using difference and experimentation as his standard.
The exhibition Dois Desenhos, Uma Escultura [Two Drawings, One Sculpture], which the artist has conceived for the Appleton Square gallery, takes place in the gallery’s two main spaces: the ground level, in which a sculpture is displayed, and the floor below, dedicated to drawing. The sculpture’s development took the gallery space into consideration as an element with a corporeality of its own, in a balanced power play between the positioning determined by the set-up, in which the various angles from which the piece may be seen are factored in, and the multiplicity of visual planes it generates out of itself and in the surrounding space, to which it is connected through one of its inner faces. This labyrinth of connections between outside and inside, opening and closure, and overlapping planes has been long explored in Croft’s work. However, over the last decade another element has been more constantly brought into his work, making us actively engage with his pieces: the diffusion and reception of light.
In those sculptures where plaster or white paint (sometimes oil paint, as used on canvas) is applied on bronze, the incidence of light on the naturally reflective white surface draws our attention to the sculpture’s form and volume, and consequently to its dark, shadowed areas; later, the introduction of the mirror would change the sculptures’ relationship with space, since this element acts at once as a multiplier of the surrounding space and as a kaleidoscope of the sculpture itself.
Rather than altering the mirror’s qualities, Croft reformulates its purpose by means of a keen awareness of its potential as a conceptually and unpredictably fictional material for the construction of the space henceforth determined by the sculpture, which expands out of its very structure.
‘Since the mirror generates, due to its location and the incidence of the light, the visual multiplication of the object associated with it, Croft often resorts to the partial multiplication of the furniture piece, aware that its reflection on the silver coating can either reconstruct it, or introduce new semantic standards that deviate from the meaning usually attributed to these objects.’1 These lines, written in 2005 by Aurora Garcia, act as a preamble to the sculpture displayed in the present exhibition.
Here, José Pedro Croft once again uses a piece of furniture and subjects it to a thorough transformation, cutting, partially dismantling and reorganising its structure, without ever erasing the characteristics and memory of the original object, a table. This table, once part of the furniture in a former chemical laboratory, bears signs that connect it to that active, working past: there are perforations and openings that once served specific purposes, and even the item’s scale fits a workstation that was used by several people at once. However, its role here is being a raw material for the creation of a sculpture, just like the mirror.
Its base (a reference to the classical plinth) is constructed as a kind of ‘second nature’ on which the whole piece’s tensions and affections rest; its form is drawn from the original item’s (the table), and it adds to it a modification, an almost-double of itself, which generates a vertical torsion and an apparently kinetic motion.
However, we are dealing here with a single piece, which marks, in this artist’s work, a return to the relationship between an item stripped of its former use and turned into a sculptural object alongside the inclusion of other objects that were specifically made from industrially-produced materials, such as MDF boards, metal shelves originally conceived for (domestic or industrial) storage purposes, and the mirrors or glass sheets, which also generally play a role in our everyday lives.
The sculpture takes up about half the gallery’s space, both horizontally and vertically. This spatial occupation takes on the quadrangular room’s proportion and scale in nearly excessive, baroque terms, since the piece rises from the inclined base to achieve a powerful verticality across the space, releasing its two elements, which balance each other in permanent tension to lend it great dramatic power.
The piece’s base, made from an industrial material (MDF), took the original table as the model for its design, and is at once a part of the sculpture and a disruptive reference to classical-flavoured monumental sculpture, subtly evoking equestrian or funereal statuary. A recurrent feature in Croft’s work is the introduction of elements that come across as cuts or fragmentations of the sculptural object’s unity and, without diminishing the piece’s organicity, remain there as destabilising factors that alter not only the form, but also the meaning and poetics that might turn that same piece into a predictably static and apparently harmonious construction. The introduction of the base, and its angle regarding the floor plane, generates a phenomenological cut that triggers in our perception a permanent drive to reconstruct the object before us, thus creating in us a need to infinitely move through and around it.
The exhibition extends to the gallery’s lower floor, which holds two mid-sized drawings, part of his most recent work (both within the scale parameters Croft habitually explores). These are previously-published prints that the artist revisits by compulsively reworking them, overlaying the original printed monochrome shapes with very fine grids that are repeatedly and almost exhaustingly traced until the moment the piece emerges as finished. Here, too, the hand that draws is an instrument of memory, evoking the accumulation, systematic approach and attention to detail of Sol LeWitt’s ‘wall drawings’.
Colour is exhaustively treated, taken to the limit between the chromatic density of the pre-existing background and the overlapping lines, which are sometimes rendered in contrasting, near-metallic tones. This asymmetrical overlapping generates a variety of levels which, in order to be read, demand that the viewer moves closer and away from them, thus placing our body within the space of the drawing in an ambiguous rapport between surface and depth, which asks for – as his sculpture also does – a fully committed relationship between our body and the surrounding space.
1. Cf. Aurora Garcia, ‘A Geometria Humanizada’, José Pedro Croft, Rio de Janeiro: Imago Escritório de Arte, 2007, p. 73.