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Eric Orr; Sebastián
Bentley Gallery, Phoenix, Arizona
Review by Deborah Ross

Eric Orr, "Untitled," 1990, oil on canvas with artist-made lead frame, 60 x 48 x 1 3/4"

Continuing through December 31, 2014 (Orr)
Continuing through January 17, 2015 (Sebastián)

There is no particular commonality to concurrent shows of Eric Orr and Sebastián, except to say that in the case of both artists some of their most famous pieces are so monumental that they exist outside the confines of a gallery or museum. Yet there’s plenty to learn about Orr through his mystical abstract paintings; and there’s much to admire about Sebastián’s brilliant application of mathematics to outdoor sculpture by seeing his miniature works, maquettes and drawings.

Orr, who passed away in 1998, is considered a major figure in the Light and Space movement — a painter, sculptor and installation artist with works displayed internationally. In California, he is recognized for the 37-foot high double bronze towers called “L.A. Prime Matter,” a downtown landmark, as well as numerous other outdoor installations and large, multi-sensory museum installations — fascinating mixtures of elemental materials such as water, fire and metal. This show concentrates on several of Orr’s abstract paintings, in which intensely hued rectangles are surrounded by thin auras of black. The frames are integral to the canvases because of Orr’s insistence on creating them with precious gold leaf and lead; the frames reinforce the window trope he liked so well. Viewing the works from different angles enhances their three-dimensionality and color variation, and the paintings conjure thoughts of what it would be like to be sucked into a portal, hurled through space, or even thrown into a fiery pit.

Yet not all of the paintings are as fiercely red as “Penumbra” (1989) or as penetratingly bluish-green as “After Green” (1988). For instance, “Long Beach MU” (1985) is an oil on linen with gauzy gradations of gray, taupe and ivory. And “Untitled (Time/Emit)” is composed of two small panels smothered in gold leaf, one stamped with “emit” and the other stamped with “time,” eliciting thoughts about parallel universes. Orr always hoped that looking at his work would be an ethereal, individualized experience.

While Orr enjoys a following through his association with Larry Bell, James Turrell, Robert Irwin and others, the sculptor Sebastián (aka Enrique Carbajal) has little name recognition here across the border from his native Mexico, despite the fact that he has been commissioned to place sculptural monuments all over the world. A self-taught artist, Sebastián has stated that his aim is to use geometry and mathematical formulations in the service of “poetry,” and his steel-and-concrete towers and gates in urban settings are lyrically sloped, curved, angled and spiraling. One of his best-known works is the golden and gleaming 90-foot “Cabeza de Caballo” in Mexico City. The Museo Sebastián in Chihuahua houses a permanent collection of his wide-ranging work in not only sculpture but also architecture, set design, furniture and painting.

The gallery worked with the Mexican Consulate to mount this show, putting the spotlight on a handful of bronzes less than two feet high that represent the artist’s oeuvre. Included are “Cuantica Decagonal (Decagonal Quantic)” and “Columna Simetra 5 (Column Symmetry 5).” Also on view are plastic, colorful “transformer” cubes, which viewers are invited to touch and to attempt to click together using spatial and kinetic intelligence — easier said than done.

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