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


Requiem for a Material Wrapper

Elizabeth Mead

What was that sound that came in on the dark?
What is this maze of light it leaves us in?
What is this stance we take,
To turn away and turn back?
What did we hear?
It was the breath we took when we first met.
Listen. It is here.
Harold Pinter, It Is Here

When we think of sculpture we think of matter, of material, of stuff. Sculpture’s project, we are led to believe, is one of material extension. We think of things in the world, of objects composed of matter pushing out and occupying space. For some forty years James Sullivan has been making objects that extend themselves in and occupy space, objects composed of matter. Almost as meditations, his inquiries into various materials and their accordingly haptic states have ranged from straw and plaster to bronze, iron, steel, clay, paper, photographs, drawings, and prints both on and within paper. Meditation seems apt given Sullivan’s work. While materially driven, the assured physicality of his objects hovers between their being in and of the world on one hand, and their extension into another world—a world of meaning.

Central to Sullivan’s course has been states of figure/body that are—of which it makes sense to speak of them being, rather than being images of.There is a particular, conscious way we observe another’s body before us. Yet, as we carry out our daily tasks and actions upon and within the world, we generally would say we are not conscious of our bodily presence the same way we are not conscious of our intention to scratch an itch. Our ordinary way of being present is implicit, tacit, silent like a blank page of fresh paper.

One might be inclined to call straw-and-plaster figures like Figure on Chair (1993) and Float (2002) effigies, but that would be a mistake. An effigy is an offering to be destroyed, and these sculptures are meant to remain. The straw and plaster raise questions: where does the surface of the sculpture begin, how does it extend, where does it end, and what does it come up against. The materials give form to the sculpture and point beyond it into space. While the sculpture intersects and binds itself to, and with, the space it inhabits, the totality of the sculpture is its own entity, one that we approach and that sends us back out again, into our own time and space. When someone leaves the room in many ways they remain. It is not so much the corporeality as it is elan vital. All along Sullivan’s oeuvre seems to have been seeking the latter via the former. His sculptures sit at equipoise in a constant state of becoming. Their sheer matter grounds us, gives us a thingness to behold, to be absorbed into—they are things that take hold of us. A reassurance we all need, a connectedness to the world beyond ourselves.

Iron, a material humankind has used for five thousand years, sits in stark contrast to the seemingly ephemeral qualities in the plaster-and-straw sculptures. Soaps (2017), two lozenge like forms lying together inside an open oval steel container, suggests a coupling. Their long, dense forms softened by their slightly worn surface marks belie the material’s girth and density, suggesting a slow wearing away. Iron’s stubborn reluctance to be easily worn away betrays soap’s ready vulnerability to disappearance. Rounded forms are comforting, they feel good in our hands or wrapped in our arms, they are reassuring. Weight grounds us, tethers us to the present, the here, the now.

The idiosyncratic nature of collecting is revealing. Why do we select one thing over another? Why does one softly worn, round beach rock feel “just right” in our hand and the next one we pick up shows itself to be clearly not a “keeper”? Collections of things are unique to the individual collector. They are reassuring, satisfying, grounding. In the tabletop installation what remains (2016), the placement of the objects appears casually ordered, related one to another only in their proximity—a group of made and found things joined together and unified by their architecture, each piece presumably holding special meaning for the collector. When such a private action (collecting) is made public, is the beholder to understand they have been made privy to some secret knowledge? Granted some interior insight by virtue of the external gesture?

The chair in Figure on Chair serves as the intermediary between the world of the sculpture and the world we inhabit. But the role of the chair here is more complex than a simple mediation on the differences between the two worlds. A chair is already a part of the world of things and of humans. It is first an object in the world. But within the world it is a thing on which we commonly sit not stand. An erect figure atop a chair is not static, rather, it is poised to take action. On the other hand, the horizontal Float, suspended by two pins above a narrow steel plinth, suggests a weightlessness and otherworldliness. The open orifice of Hive (2013) gathers and collects, drawing in a deep, full breath to make its form. The open container holding Soaps offers itself up freely, open, and accessible.

I want to say that Sullivan’s sculptures mediate between the physical world and death. But in fact, what I really think they do is what the Egyptian god Anubis does: lead us—hold on to us or give us something to hold on to, something to meditate upon, to be grounded within. Their materiality becomes a sensation for us to behold. In a letter to the French symbolist writer Villiers de L'Isle-Adam, Stéphane Mallarmé writes, “And so you will be terrified to hear that I have discovered the idea of the universe through sensation alone—and that, in order to perpetuate the indelible idea of pure nothingness I had to fill my brain with the sensation of absolute nothingness.” This terror is a terror of nothingness—a kind of sublime or an image of the thinker’s death. For Mallarmé it is the white space, the nothingness, of the page that allows words to toss and tumble. It is the world of the Poem, the space we inhabit. Sullivan has been leading us to this place of nothingness all along.

I long thought of our final breath as an exhale, one of departure, but it is in fact that last breath drawn in that never departs, gathering like Hive. It is as though it is our last hold on the here. It is perhaps important that the gesture is one of swelling, of becoming fuller—asserting if you will, a larger physical presence. And, yet again it is air, space, the white of the page, nothingness.

And, just as before, Sullivan’s sculptures remain, still, here.