Dolan/Maxwell’s booth at the Seattle Art Fair was well laid out and well attended. Though they brought a multitude of prints, it was a sculpture by Helen Phillips that drew my attention. A direct carving, the gessoed wood of “Untitled” bears small pencil marks and other traces of its making. Although not more than 12” tall, it has a monumental presence felt from across the aisle.
Influenced by Stanley William Hayter, Ralph Stackpole, Diego Rivera, and Oceanic and Pre-Columbian art, Helen Phillips was a sculptor and printmaker. Born in 1913, she pursued her art career in San Francisco, Paris, England and New York. Her prints transform a sense of volume onto the flat sheet, using color to increase the sense of depth. Proportion of form has an aspect of the mathematical in that it embodies ratios. A rational distribution of form on a copper plate levels up into three dimensions admirably in Helen Phillips’ oeuvre. Her forms dance on the page and display a monumental sense of permanent presence in the round. Phillips’ work is in permanent collections from MOMA and the Smithsonian American Art Museum to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, to name just a few.
“Amphora” of 1959 evokes a cellular structure as well as an amoebically morphed container with a prehistoric flavor, as if these combined shapes existed before time. They pop off the page and vibrate in our gaze.
In “En Vol”, a bodily struggle appears between vigorous forms attempting to fly while entangled in webs. The tension of the webbing and echoing shapes in the background hint at a broader scale of conflict beyond the confines of the page.
“Rencontre” was cast from a wooden pattern that had been carved directly, most likely using hand tools. The serenity and poise expressed in this bronze from 1953/4 come from the process of responding to the living grain of the wood in the pattern. Two shapes are balanced on three legs as one whole.
All photos are courtesy of Dolan/Maxwell