Few artists of any era can rival Mark di Suvero when it comes to the inventive use of different tools and materials. His career as a sculptor of monumental abstractions has its origins in the department of art at UCSB, but it wasn’t until he landed in New York City, after graduating from UC Berkeley with a degree in philosophy, that he discovered his knack for making distinctive assemblages out of wood and metal salvaged from demolition sites. From there, di Suvero branched out into welding, finally hitting his signature stride as a fabricator of immense metal sculptures made of H-beams and heavy steel plates.
This new show at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art shows that di Suvero, now 88 years old, still has the spirit of discovery that made him famous in the 1960s and 1970s. There’s a great example of di Suvero’s classic large metal sculpture on the lawn outside the gallery — “Mamma Mobius” — and a small group of steel constructions inside, but what dominates the exhibition is a suite of recent paintings executed in luminescent paint.
Visitors to the show receive flashlights at the entrance, although the gallery space is not darkened but rather lit in a conventional way at a normal daytime level of brightness. What the flashlights allow one to do is activate the surface of these paintings, which, when illuminated artificially, disclose layers of paint not at first visible. Using a mysterious system that seems to have involved gravity and perhaps a rotating armature during the works’ creation, di Suvero has crafted complex abstractions featuring a bewildering yet pleasing accumulation of intersecting hard angles and soft drips. The show’s conceit — using additional light to uncover what’s invisible in ordinary daylight — is at once youthfully playful and mature in its conception and finish.
Visitors to SLOMA can see this highly worthwhile show until November 7. For more information, visit sloma.org.