'Tremendous Energy' in Steel

South Bay de Saisset campus a great spot to take in Brian Wall's powerful sculptures
Brian Wall
Sculptor Brian Wall, who creates immense stainless-steel sculptures, has a show running through June 14 in the South Bay. Pictured here: 'Actaeon' (2008) - stainless steel. Photo: Brian Wall
Brian Wall
Brian Wall in his Emeryville studio, 2015. Photo: Nicole Katano
Brian Wall
'Byodo' (2009) - stainless steel. Photo: Brian Wall

He may not be the best known of Britain's heroic, postwar generation of abstract sculptors. But Brian Wall, who was born in 1931 and came of age in the mid-1950s, remains active today—and is showing off recent work in an attractive setting in the South Bay.

"It's a beautiful campus," says Peter Selz, guest co-curator with Sue Kubly of the exhibit, 'Squaring the Circle,' on display through June 14 at the de Saisset Museum on the campus of Santa Clara University in Santa Clara. The small museum is known for excellent exhibits, many featuring Bay Area artists.

Fans can meet the artist during an exhibit walk-through and book signing of a new book about Wall, on Wednesday, June 10 at 6:30 p.m. The museum is along Palm Drive on the campus, near El Camino Real.

Wall, who began his career in England's artists colony of St. Ives, moved to California in 1974 to teach art at UC Berkeley, where he remained until 1994. Working with assistants, he creates immense stainless-steel sculptures in a studio in Emeryville.

"Half the work in the show is indoors and half the work is outdoors," Selz says. The show consists of nine sculptures plus large charcoal drawings.

Many of Wall's sculptures rely on 'implied motion' for their effect, in the words of the museum's press release. San Francisco Chronicle's Kenneth Baker noticed this a few years ago, looking at an earlier work of Wall from 1958.

"Wall's 'Standing Form XX' (1958) looks almost like a tossed cluster of rectangles arrested in mid-fall," Baker wrote. "The work's real structure becomes clear—though nothing about it is hidden—only with close inspection. And even after a viewer has unriddled its construction, a relaxed gaze can restore its striking air of levitation."

Wall's work, influenced by Asian calligraphy and the abstract expressionist painters of the 1950s, has continued to grow, say Selz, the retired director of the Berkeley Art Museum, who has known Wall for about 50 years.

"I've been following his work all these years. It's gotten more interesting," Selz says. "Many, many artists do their best work when they are young. But now he's doing his best work yet."

"He was doing large abstract works in steel. Then six or seven years ago he discovered stainless steel," Selz says.

Selz emphasizes the need to spend some time with each of Wall's works.

"His work has tremendous power, tremendous energy. At the same time, if you look at it long enough, there's a lot of thought and feeling behind it," Selz says. "This is a man who has studied Zen for many years, and some of this is visible [in his work] if you spend enough time looking at these pieces."

For more info on Wall's 'Squaring the Circle' exhibit, click here.

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