Slab construction of clay is about as ancient an artistic medium as there is. John Mason has been employing it for 50 years. A beautiful selection of seven tall, monochrome works dating from 1997 to 2002 at David Kordansky shows his mastery of the technique.
Despite its antiquity, these totemic clay slabs suggest emphatically modern machine forms. Screws, drills, blades and the like are evoked through Minimalist geometry and Cubist intersection of planar shapes.
This being clay fired in a kiln, however, natural process cannot be denied. Planes of clay bend slightly from their own weight, while a surface skin of applied glaze contrasts with the supporting skeletal structure. The result is sculpture that is often inescapably figurative, even without precise description of a human body.
Take “Charcoal Figure,” a quiet tour de force. Stacked modular units of angled planes, many with curved edges, create a five-foot vertical form that refers to the silhouette of a voluptuous, classical Venus.
Move around the sculpture and the figure fuses with the profile of a muscular bottle, reminiscent of something from the 1960s by Mason's one-time studio mate, Peter Voulkos. Continue on and the swelling, sonorous shape of a musical instrument by Picasso gets tossed in for good measure.
Mason's best sculptures pile art atop history atop autobiography. They're a delight to behold.
David Kordansky Gallery, 3143 S. La Cienega Blvd., Culver City, (310) 558-3030, through Oct. 26. Closed Sun. and Mon. www.davidkordanskygallery.com