Art Scene
April 1997

The common object undergoes a transformation when combined with disparate items and becomes a poetic whole--an assemblage. The Dadists and Surrealists were the first to explore the potential of assemblage. Artists such as Kurt Schwitters realized the viewer was jarred when familiar objects were presented out of context. Assemblage served as a visual expression of the artists inner fantasy life, while viewers could also participate by constructing their own narrative built on obscure clues. The art of assemblage has been a continuing source of fascination for California artists. Edward Kienholz. George Herms and Bruce Conner influenced a generation of west coast artists who continue to bring originality to the medium.

In that tradition. Ron Pippin fuses cast-offs onto improvisations that here take the shape of wall constructions and free-standing sculpture. Noted for piling on layers of dense imagery, he includes piano keys, sea shells, found artifacts, natural elements, photographs, pressed flowers, twine, bones, eerie illustrations and writings, anatomical diagrams, and even electric lights. Always introspective, the artist's inner life becomes anthropomorphic entities that evolve into angelic presences.

Pippin draws us into a world of primal archetypes where one can experience a physicality in the ethereal. The phantasmagorical figures possess a personal spirituality that has nothing to do with any particular religion, even if they may be referred to as '"angels." One of these figures holds a long pole with a banner hanging from the top. The banner lists names of angels and the specific function assigned to each. Pippin has familiarized himself with Christian, East Indian, Persian and Mycenaen mythologies, and finds it curious that so many different cultures had names for angels and separate duties for them. These are designated their own functions: grace, acceptance, courage. support. One has some copper shapes, like flags, around her head to indicate victory and celebration.

Complementing the angels is a series of wall constructions collectively titled Paradise Regained. They constitute, in effect, a book, each "page" a part of a narrative of spirit history, an invocation of the artist's own concerns--his quest for awareness.

A third element in this show is the Homage to the Unknown Ancestors series, which include found Victorian photographs dating to the 19th century. The people in these pictures are strangers, but Pippin "felt a kinship and believed that honoring them is like honoring ourselves."

Pippin does not make advance drawings, nor does he have specific ideas for an individual piece. Working intuitively, he allows the materials to dictate the direction. Emotionally based, they lead you on a journey of the imagination that embraces a humanistic perspective, and a philosophical outlook that optimistically searches for enlightenment and grace.

Marge Bulmer