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Darrell Petit: Mass and Matter
by John K. Grande


In Darrell Petit’s environmental sculptures, stone achieves a dialogue between order and chaos, a balance between mass and space. By preserving the ties between sculptural forms and their source in the earth, Petit acknowledges our place within the context of nature. He is aware of the potential of mass and matter. His sculptures achieve an anthropomorphic resonance, using an expressive language that carries a greater sense of scale, of tactile, environmental, and surface qualities, than most contemporary art. Petit has spoken of how, after an ice hockey accident, he lost his linguistic memory and had to mine for words and relearn associations. In a sense, he is doing the same thing in his sculpture. Each commission becomes a novel experience that involves learning anew a sculptural idiom for a specific place.
Petit seeks to animate space, not to contain or dominate the natural and sculptural characteristics inherent in the stone elements with which he works. The integrated cuts and sculpted edges of his megalithic forms allude to an environmental context that moves beyond a specific age and into geological time. His work involves a direct, raw, and immediate vocabulary related to the earliest history of stone carving. At the same time, his sculptures have been called Minimalist, and Asian influences such as Mono-Ha have been suggested. In fact, Petit’s sculptures stand apart from the standard vernacular and do not replicate any particular artistic idiom. As he states, “My works are a direct interaction with stone. For the past 20 years, I have been working in quarries all over the world to gain a better knowledge of the material, the process, and to experience the environment so that I can create my sculpture. And as it has evolved, the work has become a combination of my background in architecture, landscape architecture, and sculpture.”
Petit’s ability to combine these disciplines can be seen in his proposal for a New Monument for O’Connell Street in Dublin, submitted in collaboration with Fergus McCaffrey and Roberto Espejo. The project would have involved voyaging by sea and river, just like the Vikings (Dublin’s first settlers) did in the ninth century, to transport Norwegian granite to the site. The monument, replacing Nelson’s Pillar (1808, demolished 1966), offsets vertical pieces of Norwegian granite with walls of Wicklow granite. Petit also collaborated with noted architect Kevin Roche at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York. As Petit recalls, “[Roche] wanted the interior panels of Jet Mist granite to appear as though they had been ripped out of the earth.” For the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, Petit identified, quarried, and then sculpted a 200-ton granite element to evoke a primordial environment. Other collaborations include Rockscape, a waterfront sculpture project with the architect Ullrich Hellum in Larvik, Norway; a three-part sculpture for the Loeb Residence Courtyard in Branford, Connecticut; an on-site collaboration with Montreal’s Margie Gillis Dance Foundation in Norway; and the restoration of a Japanese stone garden in Nobeoka, Japan, with architect Naomi Darling.

Gondwana, for Richard Bellamy, 2002.
Stony Creek fusion granite and oak, 6.6 x 6 x 3 ft.


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