Saturday, July 4, 2015

Christopher Warr,
Helmuth Projects
San Diego

Helmuth Projects is a storefront gallery, owned and operated by Josh Pavlick, and functions as one of San Diego’s leading experimental venues.  The current exhibition titled ‘Pointing Itself’ by Chris Warr is a combination of disembodied male portrait heads, (which I will refer to as personas) and abstract, concrete forms. The heads are either carved, cast, modeled and assembled or configured in a combination of materials, including wood, concrete, plaster, fired clay, Styrofoam or cast iron.  Displayed alone and without appendages, one, very powerful, head, modeled in clay with a hollow interior and a dark, polychrome surface, simply lays at rest, like a Brancusi Sleeping Muse, on furniture constructed by the artist, that also functions as part of the gallery architecture.  This figure displays a rather menacing scowl with deep, furrowed, knitted brows and pursed lips.  Other abstract forms, most always cast in concrete, are used as supports to elevate some of the heads while others are displayed in a group of stand alone, autonomous works. Individually, some of these forms could easily be viewed as cast off detritus from a Construction site, but when they are combined with the portraits they become surrogate, stand-in bodies, elevating, supporting, and supplying the work with it’s unique profile.  Like Brancusi, where his autonomous, abstracted forms are employed as a support for his figures, so too do Mr. Warr’s support–forms function in a similar manner, but that’s where the comparison ends.  This work is not in any way derivative, on the contrary, elements are melded together in a completely self-referential, identity, as the title suggests; ‘Pointing Itself.’

     Expressions on the portrait heads range from inanimate, stoic silence as on the totem-like, double stack, ceramic, Janus Head figures, about nine feet high, supported and separated by cast concrete and found, turned wood.  Other faces Appeared to be driven by angst and anger- expressions of interior conflict and a psychological seriousness that inform much of the overall tone of the exhibition Another work, about five and a half feet in length, fashioned from Styrofoam with an inverted, truncated, cone shaped body devoid of arms, hangs upside down, secured to the ceiling.  The expressionless face appears stoic and sphinx–like.  This choice of positioning creates a power of presence that might otherwise not have been realized had it been situated right side up on the floor.  Another powerful, modeled figure with broad, sloping shoulders and a truncated torso did sit directly on the floor and stood about twenty-six or twenty-seven inches high.  This particular piece had a very strong material presence due to the fact that it was made from a dark, dense, rustic, cast iron.  There was another cast iron figure that stood only six or seven inches tall by about as many inches wide, resting on an elegantly, slender, cast concrete plinth about five feet high, with a slight, flared top and round base.  The portrait is poetic, appearing to be an old bard, with a slender, hollow cheek face, mustache and Vandyke beard.  I found this work to be the most quintessential and revealing in the exhibition.  This figure contained all of the elements employed in all of the other objects that were configured by combining cast or modeled heads with cast or carved base supports. This small figure seemed to contain an elemental, seed like quality, as if in its’ quiet simplicity, it germinated many of the other, larger, combined forms.  The elegantly, slender concrete plinth has an exactness about it that imbues the work with a perfected harmony.  Mr. Warr’s work never appears labored or over worked, each of the combined elements coexist comfortably together.  The loose amalgam of representation and abstraction co-joined, give these works their very unique identity, a rough, durable elegance that is endearing and engaging.  There was one work however, that fell out side of the general profile of all the other representational work, a small, thick, blocky chunk of plaster about eight or nine inches wide and nine or ten inches high and festooned with a long, dark, disheveled female wig.  There was no attempt in the least to indicate any facial features.  Aside from the wig, the viewer would never associate the work as a portrait.  It is the wig and the abstract, tri-pod leg forms that gave the work its’ anthropomorphic presence.   I viewed this piece as both slightly amusing and also slightly disturbing psychologically, because while I understood it to be figural, standing firmly balanced on its’ tri-pod support, it made me feel altogether unbalanced and uneasy.  The flurry of dark, farcically disheveled hair haphazardly sitting on the blank, pocked plaster block appeared like a lost, empty soul, a ghost persona, leering and confrontational. 

Like a confidence man, Mr. Warr would have us wholeheartedly believe in his creations.  We are invited to look deeply into their eyes, to scrutinize and study their faces – perhaps they might reveal something ­­– a revelation, a message, a glimpse of something true that lies beyond the mundane, rule bound, every day world.  In most instances these persona are not handsome or beautiful or idealized in any way, and in combination with their abstract supports, they create a boundary–crossing style. These male personas are not particularly pleasant or pleasing in appearance.  Some scowl at us, some appear angry while others are totally indifferent to us, yet, the totality of the work is quite pleasing overall.  It’s pleasing in presentation, pleasing in a way that informs us that beauty is not totally lost.It’s not exactly a retinal beauty that’s being explored.  Mingling with those harsh expressions of dissidence and discord we also encounter harmony and balance.  Therein lies the compelling strength of the exhibition, part object and part installation.  It’s the juxtaposition of discord and balance that pulls us in closer.  We should become as silent as those forms if we expect to learn their open secret.  For the mind to reveal its’ self to itself – a self conscious understanding of beauty hidden in a chaotic, menacing world – to be able to find humor in every instance, and to harmonize and organize complex elements. 

 A deeper understanding of this humorous intension by the artist was demonstrated more abundantly on the evening of the opening, when gallery goers were invited to take a few whacks with a stick at the artist’s head in the form of a large, humorous piƱata.  When the final blow finally exposed the contents of the artist’s head, what fell to the floor were more of the artist’s head.  Small endearing charms, self–portraits about the size of a large baseball, not quite a soft ball.  Each multiple was a charming, cartoon image of the artist, replete with receding hairline, full beard and large, expansive pinkish pate. Each self-portrait was painted on a freely formed sphere of expandable, construction, spray foam.  Unlike the heads in the more durable materials, with expressions of angst, anger or indifference, these little charmers smiled back at us with humorous little faces that were meant to lure us in with desire, taken home – they were metaphors of metaphors of the overall category of those harsher personas – personas that a small child would certainly be shy or fearful to approach. But after a while would timidly be accepting of, as the retinal gives way to the cerebral and tension subsides and gives way to a deeper understanding of who or what, and of intent and meaning finally revealed.
The work in this show evolves beyond two art historical poles: that of tradition and that of experimental modernism.  Experimentally the show is successful on many levels, and as such, we can only hope the next iteration and fusion of materials will be as successful.


Saturday, June 30, 2012



Rose and I are on our way to my solo exhibition titled, Pictures from Life, opening July 7th - July 27th at  the Ninapi Gallery.  The gallery is located at:
                                                                                            Via Giovanni Pascoli 29
                                                                                            Ravenna, Italy  48100

Pictures from Life consists of a very limited selection of portrait paintings and printed objects
representing the visual art community of San Diego, California, artists, dealers, directors, friends of the arts and collectors.  This project was begun in 2005 as a personal experience
from meeting and knowing the people that are being represented, and at which time I'm very happy to share with a broader community.  My sincere Gratitude goes out to Chiara Fuchini
and Randi Nando of the Ninapi Gallery for their invitation, and for making this exhibition possible,. Thank you both. 
Dear friends, If your summer travels happen to bring to the neighborhood, please stop by to say hello. 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Photographer's Father

Auto Portrait

Friday, June 22, 2012


The Model after gustavo mayoral

Chef John


Auto Portra

Bag Head (after Brian Dick)