The Walter Darby Bannard Archive

Tim Curtis (1998)

Catalogue essay for exhibition of sculpture by Tim Curtis, Lowe Art Museum, Coral Gables, FL, Aug. 7 - Oct. 4 1998.

The four primary sources of the forms in the sculpture of Tim Curtis are nature, ritual, geometry and certain constructs of our culture such as the house and the boat. The forms thus derived are modified and combined in the service of a singular vision of the magical, mysterious and sacred character of life processes.

This vision has enlarged as his art has gotten better. Curtis's first mature work was finely crafted, whimsical wood furniture. This was supplanted by highly finished wood sculpture which in turn gave way to work incorporating raw natural material, sometimes charred, sometimes leafed with gold foil, sometimes combined with heaps of basic commodities such as salt or rice, often taking the shape of a boat or a rough, life-sized pod woven from twigs or rusted steel lattice. Though they differed each piece came from and referred to Curtis's insight into the essential spirituality of natural phenomena.

The new work in this fine exhibition takes another step forward. Organic materials are less in evidence and the work is simplified and refined. There is a new openness and clarity and a new emphasis on lightness (actual and implied; the boat motif in Aurora and Hovering is suggested only by the placement of the delicate elements) and on light itself; in fact, Aurora and Hovering are dependent on light for their effects. There is a common theme of lifting, hanging, and levitating; even Ancestral, the only piece which has no hanging component, seems to struggle to lift itself. The consequence of these changes, aside from making the work better, is that much more is comprehended; we see oblique references not only to living forms but also to wind, sun, clouds and rain. And, oddly enough none of this diminishes the feeling of mystery and spirituality. On the contrary, it is both enhanced and deepened.

Standing next to Aurora and Hovering - to me the best pieces in the show - one has a palpable sense of presence arising from the large-scale effect of the intersection of light and materials. The spaces are occupied by light as it reflects from the water of Aurora and the transparent monofilament supporting both pieces and sends shadow to the floor under Hovering. It is like seeing sun rays break through clouds in the distance - immaterial but very affecting and beautiful. Interestingly, in photographs the effect virtually vanishes, replaced by particulars of the room itself. This is art which is as subtle and fragile as it is moving and profound. It will not allow itself to be experienced second-hand.