Often identified as the artist who successfully translated Abstract Expressionism into three dimensions, John Chamberlain wound through Franz Schubert, the U.S. Navy, hairdressing, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Black Mountain College poets on his path to art. In Chicago, Chamberlain admired the work of Willem de Kooning and David Smith and learned to weld. Black Mountain instilled in him an intuitive collage sensibility and an approach to language that favored the visual appearance and sounds of words, dissociating them from their definitions.
Chamberlain moved to New York in 1956 and within a few years hit upon the decision to utilize car metal as art material. His sculptures hewn from automobiles inevitably attracted the wrong interpretation; where Chamberlain employed creative re-use, others saw simply car crashes. He spent the rest of his life outrunning that association. His primary concern was and continued to be three-dimensional abstraction. More sensitive observers noted a kinship between his works and the dramatic modeling and contrapposto of Baroque art and sculptural drapery studies.
With collage—the juxtaposition of heterogeneous elements—and abstraction—the elimination of figurative imagery—as guiding principles, Chamberlain articulated the maxim that permeates his entire oeuvre: “it’s all in the fit.” Throughout his career, modulations in scale and medium provide a vital rhythm to his development. The sculptures range from the size of a fist to the girth of a generous hug to the height of a young, and eventually not so young, tree. Swelling and shrinking, in coats of multicolor, monochrome, or black-and-white paint, the survey of Chamberlain’s career displays the integrity of the artist’s gesture in diverse manifestations. Despite his commitment to abstraction, identifying anthropomorphic and zoomorphic traits in the lyrical, twisting forms is irresistible.
For more information, please visit www.guggenheim.org/new-york/exhibitions/on-view/john-chamberlain-choices