Tony Cragg’s “Line of Thought” in front of the Rosewood Court complex at Pearl and Cedar Springs has become my favorite piece of public, outdoor sculpture in North Texas these days. Which isn’t saying a lot, actually, considering much of our outdoor art, which mostly consists of generic abstract corporate sculptures or popular but conventional pieces of ‘cowboy realism.’ Even the Henry Moore in front of City Hall is, to my mind, not top-notch Moore. And of course, my choice discounts the works at the Nasher, which may be outside but aren’t exactly public. You have to pay to see them. And then there are the works at NorthPark, including Barry Flanagan’s wonderful leaping hare — they may be public but they’re not outdoor. So I’m talking about Art I Can Drive Past or Saunter By When I Please.
When “Line” was first installed this summer, I assumed it was another abstract piece, albeit one suggesting a vortex or dust storm. I liked the twisty, sensual shapes. I was somewhat familiar with the British sculptor’s works, which are primarily large-scale, curvilinear or biomorphic. This looked to be more of the same.
But while sitting in stalled traffic on Cedar Springs and crawling past the metal sculpture…
… I was surprised to see a human face, in profile, slowly take shape and slide away, and then as I continued forward, another one appeared further up the column and even a third, though I had to crane my neck around to catch it as the traffic took me away. In the image on the left, two human profiles of different scales are visible facing in opposite directions. In the close-up below, an entirely different, third profile can be seen. It’s apparent from this profile that these faces aren’t simply mirages, random shapes that human brains, as is their wont, configure as human countenances. The faces are an integral part of the design. In fact, as I found out, this is something Cragg has done before (see “Bent of Mind”). And when I visited Rosewood Court a few days later and wandered around the piece with my cell phone camera, I counted what I took to be four different faces. There may be more.
“Line of Thought” fascinates me not simply for its graceful curves or for this pleasing sense of “discovery” — although it certainly rewards repeated visits. Cragg himself has written about “Bent” that it represents a conversation between “material, object and image (providing) seemingly endless possibilities of form and meaning.” The sculpture seems to be shifting into different forms, which is one reason, I think, the profiles are so tantalizing. To slip and curve from one abstract shape into another doesn’t entice a viewer the way watching a face dissolving and reappearing does.
But “Line” also provides a reminder that sculpture can have this time-lapse experience, that it’s impossible to view many sculptures in a single take. One has to walk around a work to gain its full effect. The other (smaller) surprise in researching Cragg’s works: He says they’re not built to his specifications in a foundry, which has been a practice since at least the Renaissance for monumental works. He makes them himself.