Jerry Wingren

Romancing the Stone and Other Materials

Jane Fudge

Cut and Fold

Jerry Wingren, a Boulder County sculptor, strives for a sense of lightness and movement through space with materials whose characteristics would seem to deny both. Wingren's aesthetic is remarkably flexible, lending vigor equally to a medium as modern as industrially-fabricated and painted metal and to the ancient art of marble carving.

In his structural simplicity and straightforward use of materials, Wingren is a purist. Yet his work is about as far from Minimalism as one can get; it has none of the gravity and ponderousness of the primary structures of the 1960s and '70s. His central preoccupation of the last few years has been to give a kind of suppleness and agility to his angular forms, to "fold a rock, float a stone." He makes free to contradict the weigh and size of even his largest pieces and he has a penchant for visual surprises and fascinating formal ambiguities.

These ends are served in the steel of aluminum pieces by crisp, airy shapes, many of them translations of Wingren's sketching process in origami paper or cardboard. They are further lightened by bright paint jobs, or brushed or milled surfaces. Even the largest of the "Cut and Fold" series seems ready to blow across the landscape with a puff of wind.

Other metal pieces, like the origami-derived piece included in Boulder's "Art in the Park #6" exhibition of outdoor sculpture, have the compact yet energetic poise of a perching bird or idling airplane: earthbound but tensed for a spring into flight. This piece rose in a cluster of planes and angles gathered about its vertical axis as neatly as a jackknife's blades.

The simplicity and cleanness of Wingren's designs can only be experienced by walking around or past the pieces and noting the abruptness with which the planes shift with the smallest change in parallax. In the Boulder piece, this effect was heightened by the contrast between the glinty, roughly brushed bare steel and the austere, matte black paint job that muted part of its surface.

All the irrational levity of butterfly-bright metal is countered by a serious, classicizing tendency that runs throughout Wingren's work. Unifying and supporting many of the metal pieces is the antique system of proportions, the "Golden Rectangle;" others utilize the mathematical progressions of the Fibonacci Series.

The flat elements of the metal sculptures and our understanding of their ductility make it easy for us to accept the unfolding of their volumes in space. Stone, however, presents physical and conceptual barriers to the dispersal of its mass.

The thinness of the metal plates and the views through and around them lead the eye along their planes quite readily, but the massiveness of rock tends to fold all planes in toward center. Wingren has approached these problems with increasing success and confidence in his recent works in marble and alabaster.

He has opposed the tendency of stone to close on itself by piercing it, by the careful placement of related elements, and by the directional clues given by saw kerfs and shadows. While penetrating the rock is usually associated with organic or naturalistic idioms (like those of Henry Moore, Hans Arp or Isamu Hoguchi), Wingren has held on to geometric and prismatic forms that reflect the crystalline composition of the stone itself.

While the metal works are naturally expensive, the stone pieces rely more heavily on niceties of position and the play of light and shadow over their surfaces. In Spires, the two slender uprights seem to pirouette on their narrow bases as the surprising intersections of angles and saw cuts lead the eye around and around the space that is captured between them. In this work, and in the slightly older Split Rock, the definite but subtle angularities cause the planes to "flop" abruptly-that is, to appear to move and change shape and position to a much greater extent than the viewer's own motion would warrant. Here the unpredictability that enlivens the rationalism of the "Golden Rectangle" pervades white marble, the arch-substance of classical sculpture.

Jerry Wingren came to his profession relatively late. He was born in Ketchikan, Alaska, a community rich in Tlingit history and artifacts, notably carved totem poles. While he had some private lessons in art, he followed what seemed like a logical course of study given his Scandinavian background, and earned degrees in Scandinavian and German literature and language.

After a stint in academia, which included several years teaching at the University of Colorado, Wingren obtained a Fulbright grant to the University of Bremen, Germany, to complete a dissertation. There he came in contact with a number of sculptors, including Otto Almstadt and Moritz Bohrmann, and he began working seriously, first in wood and then in stone and bronze. As is often the case with artists who have spent years "saving up" a currency of ideas before getting started on their careers, Wingren developed quickly. He participated in public sculpture events with the Kontakt Kunst and Gruppe Kilo in Bremen and Bremerhaven in the mid-1970s. Since then he has exhibited regularly in the United States and Europe. Wingren is now a member of FORM, Inc., a Boulder-based exhibition and marketing group of nine sculptors who specialize in large-scale, durable works.

Wingren's ideation is sufficiently clearsighted to embrace techniques a different as steel fabrication and stone carving, and he has movedbetween geometric andorganic abstraction with ease. More important than mere consistency of style, Wingren's work has an inner coherence that transcends changes of material and scale.