Sunday, January 28, 1996
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
By Victoria Donohoe, INQUIRER ART CRITIC
Christopher Cairns' sculptures in bronze are presences - not imitations
of reality, but realities in themselves. The human figures and portrait
heads in his retrospective show at Haverford College, where he teaches,
have evolved out of a lifetime of working in the representational
and near-representational vein.
We get from his exhibit no particular sense of style, let alone
stylishness, but rather the feeling of a strong, yet reticent sensibility
very much in control of his sculptural medium.
Artwork as many-sided as his is not easily encompassed in a conventional
gallery retrospective. Different spaces have been created by the
gallery and the artist, including a couple of ``rooms'' that increase
our sense of his scope from 1973 to the present. Cairns' studio
is in a former firehouse in Havertown.
Front and center is his large and looming Rack of Heads, an ensemble
of 30 bronzes, which reveals him as a penetrating physiognomist.
Cairns knows just how faces age and how heads press forward on craning
necks, droop with drowsiness, or are held entreatingly or nobly
Other work is socially oriented, so the artist has exulted in occasional
public projects - his latest being his six-foot Lazarus, which briefly
graced this show before its dedication today at Elizabethtown College's
new performing arts center.
In this piece, Cairns shows the strength of bronze, not its heaviness.
A close reading of such works suggests that the artist's inner experiences
are dense and rich.
This installation responds well to the high drama of certain works
set apart, especially those placed in a small room lined menacingly
in reddish-brown burlap. These figures variously meet their fate
in the red room, caught in the airless tomb of the memorialist's
inner eye. Such sculptures do not in any way personify the dark
forces of human nature, but these images do brim over with feelings
of apprehension. Had Cairns represented them realistically as portraying
very specific episodes, their poetic force would have been diminished.
The Haverford show really scores in the superb display of these
sometimes horrific pieces in bronze and plaster in the two specially-built
As for Cairns' sensibility, despite its present-day orientation,
it draws its basic spirit from some other realm of time, or timelessness.
There is a sense of primitive mystery in this show. Cairns' imagination
is tuned in to primitive archetypes and myth.
Thus his figure sculptures have a power beyond the visual - the
power to recall us to elementary experiences. A stunning show not
to be missed.
The show is at Haverford College's Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, Coursey
Road in Haverford, until Feb. 18. Gallery hours are Mondays through
Fridays 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, noon to 4 p.m.
For information, call 610-896-1333.