Lee Grandjean: Weights and Measures
9/11/213 - 30/11/2013
Nicolson gallery and the Theatre in the Woods, Gresham School, Holt, Norfolk
It's dark. Rain beats down on us as we approach a large thicket of black trees, silhouetted from inside by the brilliant white light of arc lamps. Framed by an arch of branches a tall glistening white figure stands sentinel, marking the entrance to Gresham's outdoor theatre Below you on the raked steps of the semicircular auditorium scattered figures stand around on the terraces, each object in its pool of inky shadow, where for three weeks this autumn sculptor Lee Greandjean installed a new set of 35 sculptures.
This anthropomorphic tribe of objects, part human, part discarded industrial plant, form a body of work entitled Weights and Measures. This workmanlike yet lyrical title speaks of what sculpture is, physical matter that is also abstract. His large objects have sticks for limbs, box heads, lumpen feet and spindly legs. Their aesthetic is rough post-industrial - pipes, tanks, braces, burly, awkward. The colours too are industrial-looking - dust, mud, cement, with splashes of uncomfortable pink and blue and his use of gloss paint highlights the roughness of their texture. I had first seen this new group of sculptures in Grandjean's studio, where they stood close together like visitors at the beginning of a party. Now, they were spread around the auditorium in dramatic declamatory style, as though each had something very particular to convey.
Their sheer quantity, the coherence of their appearance, their family likeness, gives Grandjean the opportunity to concentrate on form and size, design permutations, and the use of one main material (scrim, coated by coarse concrete sludge) allows him to work through a lot of ideas. Many of the objects such as 'Swan-necked Woman' have inviting handle shapes that dare you to lift them; a while their jokey quality tells you you might be surprised at the result: they might put your back out, or maybe you could swing them up like kittens. Are they for storage, such as 'Dirty Sticky Pink' or 'Sweat'? Are they the remains of some abandoned experiment?
The small objects act like commas or beads between the larger objects, alternately linking and separating the larger objects within the tableau. These also act like a base numeral from which to judge the 'size' of the others - without the little ones, you might read the big ones as small versions of even larger objects. There is also an impression of moving objects suddenly stilled, effected by the many legs, trucks and dangling limb-like protrusions, and an absurdity and pathos that recalls Guston.
Grandjean's assured touch igives a strong personality to the work, and the application of the surface of the works reminds me of the way a farmer controls an animal - patting, smoothing, slapping. There is a masculinity to the objects, but also a disarmingly childlike goofiness that marks them out as the product of a powerful imagination. and a well-practised hand.