Art Lies, Volume 27, Summer 2000 Page: 75

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Ed Wilson: The Last Ten Years
J. D. Peppers: Are You Experienced?
by Catherine D. Anspon

Two recent Houston Sculpture 2000
exhibitions-retrospectives, as it were-
epitomized opposing approaches to the
medium. In a fundamental way, Ed
Wilson's The Last Ten Years and J. D.
Peppers' Are You Experienced? mirrored
the ongoing, pivotal debate in contempo-
rary sculpture, and modernism as a whole,
concerning abstraction versus figuration.
Both artists showcased significant,
representative bodies of work in the same
hip warehouse venue, Houston's Vine
Street Studios-Ed Wilson at ArtScan
Gallery and J. D. Peppers at Nancy
Littlejohn Fine Art. Besides exhibiting
in the same building, the only other
commonality was materials. Both artists
work exclusively in metal. Peppers' medi-
um is stainless steel, and he primarily
uses a cold, hand-bent technique.

Wilson, on the other hand, combines a
variety of metals and methods in his
work. A single piece often includes steel,
cast iron, stainless steel and even found
metal elements, and may be produced by
an amalgamation of welding, forging,
and casting.
There the similarities ended. For
Wilson, sculpture is about image-mak-
ing, and the artist is a master of creating
iconic works which resonate with mean-
ing. In contrast, Peppers' work is gestur-
al, non-specific, and highly abstracted, as
if he was making drawings with stainless
steel as the pencil. Wilson's marriage of
political content with potent-and poet-
ic-imagery recalls in purpose, if not
style, such sculptors as Ed and Nancy
Kienholz, Luis Jimenez, Kiki Smith and
Paul McCarthy. Peppers' oeuvre is more
formally based. His sculpture
possesses whiffs of its modernist
antecedents, from tribally
inspired Brancusi-derived
shapes to lyrical abstractions
suggestive of David Smith or
Eduardo Chillida.
The Last Ten Years presented
a carefully culled selection of Ed
Wilson's art, curated by ArtScan
Director, Dr. Volker Eisele. As
such, the exhibit brought to the
forefront this Texas-based mid-
career talent (MFA, University
of Houston) who is at the top of
his game. Wilson should be seen
by a broader audience. In my
mind, he is one of the best sculp-
tors working in Houston today,
primarily for his aforementioned
potent amalgamation of relevant
political content with iconic
imagery. As the exhibition at
Vine Street highlighted, the
artist is deeply shaped by envi-
ronmental issues as well as social

concerns. Wilson's themes can be as
broad-based as urban chaos and violence
in the schools, and as specific as clear-
cutting in the Pacific Northwest and the
destruction of the Brazilian rain forest.
Child's Play is a deceptively simple
combination of a tricycle, rendered in
steel with an actual Japanese Army rifle
from World War II. You could see it sim-
ply as a statement about violence and
youthful innocence, but it is eerily pre-
scient in light of events that have
occurred a decade later, like the shoot-
ings at Columbine High School in
Colorado. Refugee is similarly unforget-
table, referring as it does to the citizens
of Kosovo who had to flee their homes
with the sum of their belongings piled
upon primitive ox carts. However, the
cargo of Wilson's Refugee is something
entirely different-a beguiling and sexily
dangerous load of missiles, phallic and
painted with red tips suggestive of the
latest fashion in shades of lipstick.
The fourteen sculptures presented
in The Last Ten Years ranged in style from
elegantly realistic castings to rougher,
more expressionistic offerings. While the
over-the-top Baroque energy of
Mountain Flower-with its menacing
saw-blade petals-is powerful, Wilson is
most successful when his more under-
stated, mature voice comes into play.
Works such as Jesco's Chair, where
Wilson places a skull-like rock upon a
simple chair, possesses a compelling
poetry by virtue of its restrained and
direct imagery.
J. D. Peppers' exhibit was the
antithesis of Wilson's image-making,
Ed Wilson
Jesco's Chair, 2000
Steel, stone, cast iron
Courtesy the artist

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