The Constellation of Things


The Yearling, by Donald Lipski, now installed in Denver

In David Levi Strauss’ book, From Head to Hand, he begins the chapter on sculptor Donald Lipski with three quotes and this paragraph:

The only works of art America has given are her plumbing and her bridges.
–The Blind Man (1917)

Why not look at the constellation of things that surround us every day? That is the combinatory art. Nothing should be left out. Everything has to undergo the test of how it can live in this relatedness.
–Frederick Sommer, The Constellations That Surround Us (1992)

Art supposes that beauty is not an exception—is not in despite of—but is the basis for an order.
–John Berger, “The White Bird” (1985)

From the viewpoint of art for art’s sake, aesthetic decisions are continually being contaminated by the things of this world. In Donald Lipski’s art, this process is not merely tolerated, but celebrated. In fact, this contamination—resulting from the contact and mixture of disparate substances and materials—defines the method and has come to be the principal subject of Lipski’s art.

A great collection of quotes, and a topic that has many more levels to it than just Lipski’s eclectic work. Sommer’s encouragement to look at and work with the “constellation of things” and to take a “combinatory” approach to art making speaks to me as a painter as well. Clearly my approach is a much more subtle implementation, often operating most powerfully at the inchoate level of intent. But the steady accretion of non traditional materials into my work has been my own painterly way of coming into relationship with the constellation of things that exist in my world.

I also found this passage about Lipski and his relationship to minimalism provocative:

Lipski’s art is particularly well suited to contemporary postindustrial society, a society of plethoric overproduction, wealth, and waste. But his art is not plethoric. It is, rather, remarkably light on its feet, transforming glut into spare elegance. The work clearly responds more to minimalism than to pop, but with a twist…David Rubin wrote: “Although minimalism was born of a disdain for metaphor and materials with associative value, Lipski has brought new life to is most cherished principles. In subjectifying minimalism, altering it as he does objects, Lipski has effectively transformed it from an art of the few into an art for the many.

My favorite Lipski is his 1998 installation for Grand Central, Sirshasana. A huge artificial olive tree, it hung upside down. The roots were covered in gold leaf and its branches were draped with 5,000 Swarovski crystals. Named after a head down yoga position, the tree felt ethereal and provocative—its roots reaching heavenward and its branches drawing down to the earth. Much can be drawn from that orientation, and Strauss quotes the 13th century Zohar: “The Tree of Life extends from above downwards, and is the sun which illuminates us all.”

This work feels loaded, lush and full of light.


Sirshasana, in Grand Central

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4 comments

  1. Di’s avatar

    looks like crystal of ice…

  2. Deborah Barlow’s avatar

    I love the whole thing. So compelling to me. Thanks Di, I feel resonant with your eye.

  3. Ann E. Michael’s avatar

    Sirshasana is gorgeous. I am reminded both of Steve Tobin’s tree root sculptures and, a little, of some of Chihuly’s works.

    The etymology of the word constellation is simple: to (be) set with stars…so Strauss’ use of Sommers’ quote is particularly apt in the case of Sirshasana … it certainly shines.

    Now I am annoyed that I didn’t know about the installation at the time. I wasn’t living that far from NYC. Thanks for this post!

  4. Deborah Barlow’s avatar

    Ann, Your comments have enriched the experience even more for me. I was not familiar previously with Steve Tobin’s work but just spent some time looking at images online. Some rich connections, especially in relation to Lipski’s Sirshasana. Thank you for that and for stopping by.

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