Art Scene
September 1993

Ron Pippin has been exhibiting his dolls and vehicles for well over a decade now, and it is increasingly evident that they are gradually becoming interwoven into an epic.

With their richness of detail, the spirit warriors and angels are enticing to the eye both from a distance and when intimately examined. Taken at a glance these proud, even heroic characters might be most suitable accompanying romantic fantasy fiction. No way. Not once you have a chance to explore them. If these are warriors, their battles are behind them--probably far behind them. Francis appears as a reliquary object in a cabinet, as does Michael. Limbs are wrapped as though they have been wounded or worse. The bride-like white gauze in which Theresa II is gabed mummifies her just as certainly as it purifies her.

Suffering and death lace these figures too intensely to keep them at a romantic distance or elevate them to heroic proportion. But there is no way that you are going to see much of yourself in them either. Their exotic form and materials make them transcultural artifacts.

It is Pippin's familiarity with a variety of religious and mythological traditions that inform their conglomerate nature. If a figure like Oriental Angel I fails to measure up to the integrity of most of his work it is because its cultural reference point precedes and limits the usual elasticity of Pippins points of reference. Normally it is not clear where the dividing line stands between a meso-American, Egyptian, Gothic, or Tibetan flavoring.

These are spiritually connected objects not only because they present themselves in dreams, as Pippin claims, or because they reference a variety of mystical traditions. It is certainly not because many of them are sprouting wings. It is the felt touch of the artists hand that animates all of this. It is the intuitive touch of a born craftsman, but one who focuses his lucidity on feeling rather than method. The most amazing thing about these figures is their guilessness.

This is not really the case when viewing the intricate flying, floating and wheeled vehicles. Originally devoid of any direct or certain relationship to the figures, he now goes so far as to bring them into conjunction, as in St. George and the Wagon or Navigator I. Taxidermy began playing a role a few years ago, and the use of animals is now an entrenched element in Pippin's vocabulary. Bird Journey's dissonant combination of a duck in flight yoked to a wheeled funeral cart squares with the internal logic of the spiritual universe in which this work lives. Ark V and Ark Cruise fuse biblical mythos to modem technology in a way that lacks imaginative inspiration. But in Phoenix II the bird stands in for an angel most resonantly, astride a boulder and bearing a single-wing contraption intended to make the resurrected creature--fly.

Bill Lasarow