William Turnbull's bronze sculptures seem like artifacts unearthed in an archeological dig. The simple forms recall ancient weaponry: shields, helmets and spears, all with a rugged and worn look created by a changing environment over millennia. Turnbull achieves this weathered look through careful application of various patinas. The play of reflectivity and shadow, grittiness and gloss activates every square inch of the surfaces.
In spite of their evocative power, which conjures images of antiquity, Turnbull's project is unmistakably modern. Now age 76, the Scottish-born artist spent his formative years in Paris, where he met Brancusi and Giacometti. Both artists had a profound impact on Turnbull, the effects of which are evident in his work to this day. Turnbull strives for a simplicity of expression by means of reductive form.
In this, his first New York show since 1989, Turnbull presents 15 bronzes produced over the past 17 years. One of the most outstanding works and one that perhaps best represents his correspondence with Brancusi is Head 3. About two feet tall and standing on a base, the work resembles a weathered stone, but its facial features are so delicately nuanced that they seem to dissolve into space. Another wonderful piece is Blade Venus 4, a tall, minimalist curving shape that could have been inspired, just as the title suggests, by an ancient battle or a Paleolithic representation of a goddess.
William Turnbull, Oct. 15- Nov. 28, 1998, at Barbara Mathes, 41 East 57th Street, New York, N.Y. 10022.