This review is less a description of an art exhibit than a narrative about a Wyoming artist making a major stylistic shift to restore energy to his studio.
Daniel metal sculptor JB Bond has been bending steel to his will for decades. His day job as a farrier exercises one highly-disciplined subset of his skills; but his home workshop — stuffed with rescued and reconditioned machines: forge, power hammer, drill press, ironworker, other inscrutable power-driven and hydraulic assets, and innumerable customized hand tools — affords panoramic latitude for his art practice.
Many Sublette County locals recognize a JB Bond artwork on sight. With few exceptions, they are modestly sized abstract wall pieces in high relief, composed largely of mild steel, often with garnishes of aluminum, high carbon steel, copper, bronze, or spring steel. These visually attractive, bold collages exploit the chemistry and fluidity of metal. Just as the yummiest abstract or minimalist paintings are all about paint, these wall sculptures are all about the raw beauty of heated, pounded, pressed, and stressed steel.
Bond has relied on intuitive processes to make art. Inspired by trial and error, he has selected fragments from his trove of discarded junk, tractor and truck parts, and spontaneously generated hundreds of premeditated happy accidents.
That is, until now.
Last year, Bond was in search of a turning point. He had been struggling through a long low period complicated by life issues that dog us all; and he was artistically stuck — in dread of entering his shop.
Finally, with the deadline for this solo exhibit on the horizon and Mystery Print gallerist David Klarén beginning to feel nervous, Bond tossed aside expectations and went back to pencil and paper. He engaged in structured play, making geometric drawings with compass and ruler, and experimenting with equilateral triangles. Simple explorations can offer great comfort and satisfaction when we’ve lost our way.
Hands-on investigation revealed to Bond rules of geometry that he likely never fully absorbed in school. When he drew and cut out contiguous paper equilateral triangles correctly, he could fold the shape into a regular square pyramid. The simplicity and stability of the pyramid spoke to him.
Repeatedly working out the possibilities of a symmetrical shape has taken Bond in the opposite direction from his earlier work, which was grounded in asymmetry, random parts, and happenstance. Now the workshop is once again where he wants to be.
For probably the first time in his art practice, Bond has purchased new sheet metal so he can implement his own choices, unimpeded by the material’s history. He shears from the sheet metal precise triangles, ranging from three to seven and a half inches on a side, then carefully bevels and spot-welds the triangles into different sizes of square pyramids that may stand alone or be combined into more complex structures. Each pyramidal form in the exhibit is either fixed to the wall and aims straight out into the room or is set on a pedestal and points straight up.
Bond’s treatment of the metal surface too has become more intentional. Whereas recycled metal had offered weathered and evanescent John Deere and Ford colors, Bond now chooses his own hues in spray paint and controls his effects, reapplying when results don’t suit him. After spraying different colors in layers, he places the painted metal in his forge, where extreme heat oxidizes the paint, changes the colors and makes it bubble. Bond estimates that 80 percent of the color burns off. Final touches with a wire brush leave a pocked surface tinted in the low spots with a blend of subtle tones, like ancient pavement or lichen-encrusted stone.
These sculptures are only modestly larger in scale than their paper origins. It would be interesting to see some of them become giant steel pieces that mimic the characteristics of paper. An example of steel clearly impersonating other materials is the multi-layered “Point Break,” the only piece in the show that harks back to Bond’s previous high-relief wall-plaque format. Here, a kind of top pie crust is scored and cut to reveal color beneath. The surface of the metal appears to have been scribed while hot and soft by someone drawing with a protractor and compass. It’s as if Bond’s preliminary sketch has re-emerged in the finished piece.
But the pyramids are just half of Bond’s thesis. Most of the sculptures in this exhibit are installations of pyramids from Bond’s newly established process, accompanied by plumb bobs made by traditional forging. Each plumb bob is suspended by a sturdy waxed cord knotted to a custom-forged hanger high on the wall. Each resolutely vertical plumb bob is paired with a pyramid. Their respective tips are close enough to visually connect and build an almost magnetic tension between the two.
Bond forged the plumb bobs from short sections of steel rod with the help of Laramie artist Meg Thompson, who traveled across the state to engage in a plumb-bob-forging “boot camp” at Bond’s workshop. The artists fabricated dozens of one-of-a-kind plumb bobs, trying out slightly different shapes and styles and generally enjoying themselves. The positive energy and excitement that comes from artists working together is also part of this project narrative.
Bond’s artist’s statement pays homage to the Egyptian pyramids, and calls attention to the essential role played by the humble plumb bob in those pyramids’ construction. Beyond this general nod toward history, one is free to contemplate the combination for oneself. The gallery offers some of Bond’s small individual pyramids and plumb bobs for sale, allowing one to acquire either or both for a modest price and set up a personal pyramid/plumb bob configuration at home or office.
Like many artist’s statements, this is less than illuminating. An artist’s intentions (if s/he can or will dredge them into conscious thought) often sound ridiculous or flat when put into prose. The usual workaround is to invent a focus or intention that sounds better, as we are instructed in those maddening “How to be a Professional Artist” books. For visual artists to explain themselves in a second language (words), we should probably deploy a new writing genre that allows us to shape honest verbal equivalents. Still better if the viewer simply activated eyes, brain, and nervous system when viewing artwork.
Standing near the gallery entrance to take in the exhibit as a whole, one sees a room full of metal apexes, stable and squat. Some project from the walls like overturned mountains. White lines descend from the ceiling like rays of light, with plumb bobs at their endpoints aiming for the triangular peaks. It’s a three-dimensional diagram in metal, translating the sky and a topsy-turvy earth into geometry. Where sky and earth meet – when we can sense a horizon when things go sideways – we know where we are.
JB Bond: “Point/Counter Point” is on display at Mystery Print Gallery and Frame through Mar. 2, 2019.
Mystery Print Gallery and Frame
221 S. Sublette Ave.
Pinedale, WY 82941