installation view of Charles Ray at Matthew Marks Gallery, New York City, November 14, 2007 - January 19, 2008
(left)The New Beetle, 2006
Painted steel, 21 x 34 1/2 x 28 1/2 inches; 53 x 88 x 72 cm
(center) Father Figure, 2007
Painted steel, 93 3/4 x 137 1/4 x 71 3/4 inches; 238 x 349 x 182 cm
(right) Chicken, 2007
Porcelain and painted steel, 1 3/4 x 2 3/8 x 1 3/4 inches; 4 x 6 x 4 cm
The largest of the three works is Father Figure, an eighteen-and-a-half ton sculpture made from solid machined steel. Ray took as his starting point an old, green plastic children’s toy of a man driving a tractor, with an unusual stylization, akin to ancient sculpture: the figure’s legs face forward in the seat, while his torso and head turn 90 degrees outward. After many alterations to the initial model, the artist enlarged the form to stand eight feet tall and ten feet long, painting tractor and man alike in silver, black and vivid green.
The smallest work on view, Chicken, is a two-and-a-half-inch long sculpture of a bird egg. Ray began his process by raising chickens in an incubator in the studio. He produced many versions, differing in scale and media, over nearly five years, until finally settling on the finished work, in which a round opening in the cast steel eggshell exposes a tiny beak and single claw of a porcelain bird, ready to press out into the world. John Kelsey, in his essay for the catalogue that accompanies the exhibition, calls the moment Ray has captured “the bomb of life.”
The New Beetle depicts a four-year-old boy, sitting on the floor, intently playing with a toy car. The boy turns his torso subtly while holding his toy, his weight supported by his left arm and his right leg lifted slightly. The boy’s features, though naturalistic, are softened, while the details of the car are sculpted with a higher degree of realism.