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Richard Stout: Inflections of Modernity

by Illeana Marcoulesco


Hero, 2005. Bronze, 19 x 24 x 15 in.

For a long time, I could not detect the swallow that would herald a sculptural spring in Houston. The best artists always emigrated; some gave excuses—no propitious climate, no inspiring culture, no public understanding. In the last few years, however, this city, and its environs, has taken me by surprise. Richard Stout, for one, broke the canons of Texan art in the direction of abstraction, producing objects unlike anything labeled sculpture in this-here geography. He has not been corrupted by the drifting standards disseminated in postmodernity: with a rare power of concentration and self-confidence, he crossed unscathed the chasm between classic and fashionable and came forward with new ways of art-making. Born in Beaumont, Texas, in 1934, Stout is best known for his symbiosis with the Gulf Coast, which he has elevated throughout the years to almost mythic status. Not departing from geometric rigor, he blended architectural volumes into a reverberating symphony of colors. Having started to sculpt at an early age (11 or 12), using plaster, rough wood, or any other found materials, in his maturity, Stout produces abstract sculptures, invoking but not depicting real-life events.

Unlike Stout’s paintings, which are aerial and light, his sculptures are mostly a somber, difficult art, full of ciphers that resist immediate reading. The sculptures appear to explore a space of intimate events—in spite of their rhetorical titles, compiled from grand mythological narratives. In severe bronze, gray, brown, or green hues, they are heavy, complex, versatile three-dimensional shapes. Ascetic in appearance, cryptic in connotation, yet freewheeling, they speak a private language of passions and are hard to penetrate, except intuitively. The horizontal spaces are charted with vectors and pegs so that no matter from which angle you look at them, they seem oriented. This is one way of transposing abstract impressionism into sculpture.

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