John Chamberlain creates sculpture from the painted and chromed steel of used automobile bodies. While living in NewYork in the late 1950s, Chamberlain knew and admired the Abstract Expressionist paintings of Willem de Kooning and Franz Mine, and they inspired him to incorporate the third dimension ofvolume, and to capture the spontaneity and gesture of those important painters, in his sculpture. He first began making these collaged and assembled objects in the early 1960s bysalvaging discarded parts of cars from junkyards and body shops.
Chamberlain (born in 1927) found inspiration in and created art from the detritus of America's most popular consumer item--the car. He has pursued this form of artistic expression for over fortyyears, and has established himself as one of the most respected and influential sculptors of the last half of the twentieth century. Now at the age of seventy-six, and living and working in Sarasota, Florida, Chamberlain continues to make sculptures ofgreat invention, strength, and vigor.
"The Hedge" is one of Chamberlain's largest sculptures, consisting of 16 individual pieces, each in the form of a square with an open center. The pieces are placed in a 46-foot long row, parallel and equally spaced, and might suggest a planted hedge in a garden. The sculpture is made of many separate pieces of painted steel and chrome that the artist fits together and welds in a number of points to reinforce the stability and to permit them to be easily transported and exhibited. Instead of using the traditional materials of sculpture, such as a chisel and marble or modeled clay cast in bronze, Chamberlain's materials are found painted pieces of car bodies and chrome bumpers, and his tools are a steel cutter, acetylene torch, bandsaw, grinder, sledgehammer, and compactor.
Chamberlain has stated: "I used a variety of parts. Body shops would cut parts away and I would choose what I wanted from their scrap pile.... I wasn't interested in car parts, per se. I was interested in either the color or the shape. I didn't want engine parts, wheels, upholstery, glass, oil, tires, muffler systems or transmissions. Just the sheet metal—it already had a coat of paint on it."
Chamberlain's interests lie in the directness of the material, the revelation of the process of their making, and the formal concerns of color, shape, and scale of a sculptural object. Although made of cold, hard steel, Chamberlain's sculptures are surprisingly elegant and romantic, -with sensuous curves and undulating rhythms and patterns that display bursts of vibrant colors and reflective chrome.
Richard D. Marshall
Curator, Lever House Art Collection
THE HEDGE, 1997
Painted and chromium plated steel
Lever House Collection