5 February - 12 March 2022

February 12
1:00 - 5:00

Pollock Gallery

Mon, Wed, Fri
1:00 - 5:00 

6116 N. Central Expressway
Dallas, Texas 75206

Digital Exhibition Catalog
James Sullivan | Thinking Sculpture

February 5 - March 12 

Opening Reception: February 12, 1-5 p.m.

Exhibition Images

Elizabeth Mead
Immateriality: Requiem for a Material Wrapper
Matthew Whiteneck Filters, Functions
Marius Lehene A Slight Looking Away


James Sullivan Biography


A slight Looking Away 

Marius Lehene

… And my thoughts are all sensations.
I think with my eyes and my ears
And with my hands and feet
And with my nose and mouth.
Fernando Pessoa, The Keeper of Sheep

The poem, a thousand times broken, presses and pushes to construct itself, to reconstruct, for one immense unforgettable day, in order to, through everything, reconstruct us.
Henri Michaux, Thousand Times Broken

At the center of our retina, vascular and neural wiring bifurcates revealing the highest density of photoreceptors, the fovea. Such morphology brings clarity to what is seized in central gaze. Stereoscopic vision makes this clarity translatable into three-dimensional perception, allowing us to conceive objects as extended spatially and external to us. This conception sediments. A tight relationship develops between it and the fixed stare characterized by clarity. James Sullivan’s figures resist such clarity. Fragments or full bodies, Sullivan’s figurative sculptures present themselves as silhouettes, similar to peripheral - rather than central - vision.

A figure of straw and plaster, whose surface contains as much air as solid matter, floats. It conjures adventitious roots, nests, and floating islands. It also suggests an ambiguous medium of immersion: water, surely, but perhaps the symbolic flow of being, of aging, of sleep and death. Forces and counterforces balance quietly… Another figure stands on a chair, right arm stiff as a stick, and of a stick, left palm raised apprehensively. Stiffness and apprehension may be body’s anticipation of a leap, expressing an anxiety as ambivalently inner to the sculpture as interpretation is to viewers. What becomes apparent in Sullivan’s figures is a continuity between inside and outside that matches continuity in the stream of interpretations. Highly textured, material and tactile, the surface-region of the figures becomes a zone of uncertainty mediating body and surroundings. Into these fuzzy contours one nevertheless recognizes a friend’s, our own, way of carrying a body. But the very possibility of this discovery is available only in absence of clarity, like an afterimage occurs only when we begin to look away. It is hard to tell if the discovery is a feature of ourselves or of reality. Whereas clarity comes from a fixed gazing proper to a worldless subject detached from physical reality, we are a life form with a world and continuous with that world. Sullivan’s figures address us as such. They are akin to peripheral vision hazy apparitions that emerge only when the point of fixation is elsewhere; whether their expression is real or an artifact of our senses remains undecided. As silhouettes, these works are created in a two-pronged act. The act is one of making and simultaneously of a slight looking away, a shift towards inaction as far as intentionality is concerned. And if this slight looking away is a different way of looking, it also discloses an altogether different world. This is a world where the artist thinks through the act not before it, one where we do not entirely differentiate ourselves from our “outside”, a world as fuzzy as the surface of Sullivan’s figures. Such a world is vibrant precisely as a tangle of uncertainty and certainty and overtly co-constitutive with us.

Standing or floating, Sullivan’s figures remind us of their - and our - familiarity with a world, familiarity not derived from ideas but from which ideas derive. In the studio, which Sullivan prefers messy, his own ideas emerge “out of the corner of the eye”. In central vision ideas would have been clear, simple, and simply representational. The world would have been kept at a distance. However, Sullivan’s ideas do not come out of purely rational reckonings but out of circumstances and experiments in which possibilities materialize from things entering relationships with other things, other experiences, with memories, smell, touch, or sound. The ensuing artwork is to some extent logical, constructed, sustained by conscious thought. Simultaneously the work is opaque, blind, developing from an impulse that moves the arm before conscious thought.



Outside and inside are both intimate – they are always ready to be reversed, to exchange their hostility. If there exists a border-line surface between such and inside and outside, this surface is painful on both sides. […] Intimate space loses its clarity, while exterior space loses its void, void being the raw material of possibility of being.

 Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

What do I know before I speak? That I instantly learn the iron vessel can hold one body whole. That it is heavy but would nevertheless float on water, waves close to its lip, leaping in when wind picks up. That I see in its shape the old skep-hive my grandfather used to collect wandering swarms of bees; that bees in those swarms never stung... That looking at the pot’s surface makes my palms tingle. That touch is fragmentary and brings along mutual vulnerability; the pot can burn me but, also, I can tip the thing over. That I can sound the iron vessel and that its music will speak of the knock, of its own weight, and of the density of air between us; only it wouldn’t be music to the pot itself… That all space is near. That while death draws nigh, I and it will never be on the same side of this urn’s walls. That bodily and intellectual learning is like a ground where excavation goes in both directions.

Inspired by ancient Korean funerary urns, Sullivan’s death pots engage the common traditions of sculpture and pottery. Evoking other pots, they also evoke the body. They not only recall, visually, church bells - scenes from Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1966 film Andrei Rublev come to mind - butare iron pots. One could probably ring them. Large enough to contain an adult-size human and likely just as heavy, they look paradoxically light. When they deviate in form from the bell-shape, as does Hive, 2013, they appear like sounding undulations of a surface. Synesthesia of sight and hearing looms. The walls of Hive look like they vibrate under the effect of invisible forces. Acoustically, we feel - as an absence, but nevertheless - that this vibration should generate sound. Hive’s clay-like iron oxide outer color makes it protrude ostensibly. Its charcoal-black inside recedes, creating the feeling of an indefinitely large internal space. Tactile outside feels here, at hand; inside is both visually and narratively there, unknown.

Being has always been associated with inside and non-being with outside. The funerary urns in Sullivan’s practice are that, but they also invert the ratio. They are vessels meant to contain death, life kept on their outside. The balance is unstable though, it flips; the vessel as body associations persist. “Formal opposition is incapable of remaining calm”, as Bachelard wrote, it is obsessed with the metaphor. It is as if we code perception in an oppositional way, contradiction a feature of our thinking not of the world itself. The pot stands in for the body, for pneuma – the breath, and at the same time it separates its content from us, living, bodies. If it could speak, its reticent whisper would involve an ambivalent conjunction – to be and not to be; world and earth… But the pot keeps silent, able to do so precisely because it has something to say.


Float, 2002
Plaster, straw, pigments, steel
14 x 84 x 14”

Figure on Chair, 1996
Plaster Straw Wood Pigment
93“ tall

Hive, 2013
Cast iron
20 x 20 x 18”