Raised in Rochester, Indiana, John Chamberlain learnt the sculpture craft in Chicago before moving to New York and his Shelter Island studio. Working with old automobile parts, he made unconventional choices when it comes to materials, which resulted in a series of deconstructed, abstract works. Surrounded by the bohemian crowd, he derived from the art of David Smith and emotive character of the works by Pollock and De Kooning. Five years after his death, Gagosian Gallery celebrates his oeuvre. Here are five facts about the flamboyant artist.
He used the industrial detritus for his art.
Chamberlain used discarded automobile parts for his installations and sculptures since late 1950s. The technique resulted in an exhibition ‘The Art Of Assemblage’ at MoMA in 1961. He continuously experimented with materials such as Plexiglas, rubber, aluminium or steel to broaden what he called his ‘art supplies.’ Artist’s body of work was so realistic, two of his sculptures were confused for scrap metal and towed away from a gallery in Chicago in 1973.
‘The Secret Life of Hernando Cortez’ was his iconic experimental film.
Directed by Chamberlain in 1968, the counterculture film was an improvisation starring Taylor Mead and Ultra Violet. Filmed in Mexico and Long Island, it presented numerous scenes of nudity and sex, reflecting Chamberlain’s flair for things abstract.
‘Shortstop’ was his breakthrough work.
Conceived in 1957, it has launched artist’s career, based upon the French Surrealists’ idea of an ‘objet trouve’ aka ‘readymade’ pioneered by Duchamp. For this particular artwork, he used the fenders he found by driving them over with a truck. This initiated Chamberlain’s passion for materials such as car wreckage, he will deliberately search for in the scrap yards.
He created foam sculptures.
Made between 1966 and 1970, foam sculptures represented ultra-simplicity. Painted urethane foam was moulded into shape with dynamic tensions, adopting rounded form. Chamberlain said of his materials: ‘One day something—some one thing—pops out at you, and you pick it up, and you take it over, and you put it somewhere else, and it fits.’
His creative approach was based on listening.
‘I’m more interested in seeing what the material tells me than in imposing my will on it,’ said Chamberlain. This partially explained the unusual composition of his works he believed are objects to relieve own dissatisfaction.
John Chamberlain: Poetic Form opens on September ,7 at Gagosian Gallery in Geneva.