Brian Wall, published by Momentum in 2006, is a great retrospective on the artist’s 50-plus year career (a part of which was surveyed in an exhibition at Hacket/Mill in San Francisco last fall). The book includes extensive photography of Wall’s steel structures (as well as some drawings made by Wall in the 1990s and wooden Mondrian-like boxes constructed during the 1950s when he was in St Ives).
The book includes a foreword by Suzaan Boettger. Here, the writer immediately places Wall into a context of masculinity. According to Boettger, the artist’s name conjures up “brawny” and “solid,” as do his steel structures. But contradicting this Western posture (Wall emigrated to the USA in 1972) is also a clean, open aspect of his works that is more associated with British sculpture of the period. Duality is explored further throughout Boettger’s essay. A member of the International Sculpture Center’s Board of Trustees, George Neubert was mentioned in this essay for his curatorial selection of B-1 for the Oakland Museum’s outdoor sculpture collection in 1971.
The rest of the book is devoted to Wall’s extensive career as highlighted through photographic layouts and an extensive text by Chris Stephens. The writing by Stephens (a modern British art critic who specializes in the artists of St Ives) breaks down the artist’s progression through three formative periods, St Ives, London, and California.
It is always interesting to read about an artist’s beginnings. Wall was part of the Modernist school in St Ives that included the important figures Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, and Peter Lanyon. Stephens writes that Wall, while new in the area in the 1950s, approached Lanyon as a stranger on the street and asked for a studio. He quickly became part of the small artists community in St Ives before moving on six years later. Stephens notes that Wall was one of the first artists to construct abstract sculpture by welding steel.
Although this book is already a few years old, it is not dated. The continuity that runs through the book’s artworks remains until its end. As Stephens points out in his last page, “So we see Brian Wall working in the San Francisco East Bay area in 2006 much as he did in West Cornwall in 1956.” The book’s interesting layout and manageable size add to the appeal of this extensive retrospective on one of contemporary sculpture’s masters. It is also notable as, perplexingly, one of relatively few writings on Wall.
by Chris Stephens and Brian Wall
228 pages, illustrated throughout