Untitled Document Contacts

Much of the best 20th-century sculpture takes its cues from painting. Picasso, David Smith, Anthony Caro, John Chamberlain, Donald Judd and Richard Serra, come immediately to mind. Add to that list Young British Artist Ian Dawson, whose current exhibition at James Cohan Gallery on 57th Street is one of the season's best surprises.

The material of choice for Dawson is plastic -- in the form of ready-made chairs, crates, bins, buckets, baskets, cups and hangers. Using a propane torch, Dawson melts these brightly colored consumer items into masses of drippy, congealed color, which he stacks and assembles into sometimes massive and always lyrical compositions.

A graduate of London's prestigious Royal College of Art, Dawson's recent UK exhibitions include solo shows at the Hales and Modern Art Galleries in London, as well the group show of "Young British Art 1999: The Saatchi Decade."

The most striking work at Cohan is #199, a heaped, molten conglomeration that ambles and sprawls across the floor. A harmony of several blues, greens, black and white, #199 gives the impression of color made palpable. The piece is well over six feet tall towards its center, and recalls Rodin's famous Burghers of Calais in its monumentality and sweeping movement, even as it brings to mind the flowing liquidity of paintings by Jackson Pollock or Larry Poons.

Another work, dubbed #1365, seems to crawl playfully up one the wall and spill down onto the floor. With its more spectral palette, including touches of nearly fluorescent greens and reds, the sculpture recalls the whimsical constructions of Judy Pfaff. And through its use of the wall, the work ventures even further into the realm of painting.

In addition to the three other, smaller and more monolithic sculptures in the show, Dawson is also exhibiting several Spirograph drawings. Using the popular children's toy, Dawson makes fresh and clean drawings in blue ballpoint pen on meticulously prepared panels. The regularly spiraling shapes are as fascinating now as they ever were, though I found myself yearning a bit for some of the chromatic brilliance of the sculpture.

The large sculptures sell for under $15,000, while the drawings go for under $10,000.

Roland Barthes, in an essay entitled Plastic, wrote, "So, much more than a substance, plastic is the very idea of its transformation; as its everyday name indicates, it is ubiquity made visible. And it is this, in fact, which makes it a miraculous substance; a miracle is always a sudden transformation of nature."

JEFF CRANE is an artist who writes about art.


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