Imagine a life that balances heart, mind, and body-a circumference in touch with a center that sets events in motion around it. Try slipping your hands along sensual surfaces of shapes that move with the wind or in response to other movements in their common field. Find such longings in yourself and step into the hypnotic spin of Robert Kantor’s steel sculptures.
Among the larger pieces, exuberant color and solid, flat shapes composing Red Star and M Star bring to mind Matisse’s joyful late cutouts that-even fixed in two dimensions-imply movement, delight, and wind. Kantor’s two Stars are particularly significant in their crossing of elements to form a base that shows viewers the metaphorical starry ground from which all of his inquiry extends. His interlocking star planes sparkle with clarity, luminosity, beauty, blessings, and implied movement. From interdependence and a center established between two views of understanding and physical existence, a balance point and the gravitational center of a gyre, is located. Rounded oval and triangular shapes are set onto an extended point of the star, to play and ride around each other in a new game of tag or catch-me-if-you-can.
Creation, the most monumental of Kantor’s sculptures, emphasizes the center point of a stabile set in an outdoor garden. Nature sings and croaks around the display of a union that seems to be of male and female, heaven and earth. Discrete individuals interpenetrate, giving themselves to the moment of crossing in such a way as to energize them both. From this meeting, each person stretches out into his or her own completion.
Grounded in the mysteries of consummation, the sexual center of the red Creation could be seen as a plunge of male into female; but Kantor’s view is that the male arises from the feminine, is born again and again from the nourishing ground. The seven red pieces arranged in a circle around the central crossing refer to the seven days of creation and to seven as the number symbolizing transformation cycles. Emphasizing a consonance of center and surround, the weight of steel in the seven pieces that circumscribe the territory of Creation is precisely the same as the weight of the center standing element. The total number of pieces comprising the whole comes to eight, the Cabalistic number considered to be a symbol of life. One realizes that all of Kantor’s works mean to gather the elusive sap or beingness of life itself into steel and color.
His awareness of the energies of symbolism, mysticism, and interdependence of parts that can achieve a sum of a different order bring to mind the lunar or yin aspect of the ancient and universal operations of alchemy. The alchemical path leads to spiritual and psychological gold-“the true gold” of greatest value-whose primary components are Sol and Luna. A long courtship of complementary opposites brings the solar power principle of midday sun into play with the hidden lunar and reflective knowing of the night. For this viewer, the secret heart of Kantor’s art lies in the weights and counterweights, power and hidden reflections, he manages to balance into form.
Nature as a model for form and balance, and sometimes as an intended site, has been a primary concern of this artist who loves the wind in the aspens of his Idaho landscape. Toolies, a piece that interacts with nature in terms of site, features a slightly curving base from which tall reeds extend vertically into space. This work is meant to be a sculptural lens set into a natural environment. It brings with it a rich dialog about art or culture as a mediating prism through which we experience nature-or through which nature becomes paradoxically more visible.
When a new color appears in a piece, as in the dynamic Fuchsia Flower featuring a six-petalled pink flower rising out of a field of dark shapes, or in the eponymous flower of White Flower, or the heart shape in Red Heart-something new springs from the churning of the world as it has been. There is a change in electrical or chemical charge, a change in feeling or direction. Kantor’s pieces recall the imagery of Karel Appel, Jean Dubuffet, and Juan Miro, offering the fun of toys for adults able to give themselves to the surprises and open delight of a child. Art historical references can be found as well in the mobiles of Alexander Calder and the playful movements of Jean Tinguely’s sculpture.
Many of Kantor’s images appear visually behind closed eyes, just as he wakes up. He says the night chooses files from the storage system, putting things together for the first time. From interior vision, the image is worked out in his sketchbook. Sometimes images for the larger sculptures are set into three dimensional digital space in a CAD design that allows 360 degree views, scale and color changes, and an imagined site for the evolving piece. Other objects, worked out in the materials, begin in Kantor’s hands with scissors, copper sheets and wire. These become copper mobiles that may remain in this form, but might also be models for larger steel sculptures.
Shapes discovered in these processes are sometimes set into monoplanes (Kantor’s nomenclature) such as Fish, Jimmy (referring to a famous nose), and Double Hearts. The latter piece, reprising the heart motif common to a number of this sculptor’s works, displays the reality of two hearts facing each other on the same plane. The edges are raw, and original markings on the steel carry a sense of unadorned authenticity in materials, working, and feeling. In contrast, then, consider the idealized, endless “S” Heart, a work so smooth and shapely that a viewer’s hand may be drawn to running around and around its polished perimeter before the mind enters its open center.
Balance in Black and White and Balance in Black and White II are among Kantor’s strongest pieces. Balance I places two half circles, one black and open to the sky and the other white and open to the earth, on one balance pole-the whole of which is then set in complementary relationship with a solid circle that is white on one face and black on the other. There is a great sense of mystery in this piece, a sculpture capable of spinning a black-white continuum that is implacable, all knowing, and complete. Taller than the earlier Balance I, Balance in Black and White II, at more than ten feet, stands like a goddess who has arrived on the human plane. In this version the white half circle is open to the sky, and the black half circle seems to draw up the energy of earth. Here is an optimistic, sensually gorgeous soul-image that might carry the compassion of a Ruth, a Virgin Mary, or a Green Tara. The elements of this piece float like prayer flags with the wind and seem to include a wish of happiness for all beings. The stepped base is graceful, balancing two slender legs against a stronger one, leaving space that becomes a positive openness limned by the enclosing black steel. The elegant proportions and delicate balance of the shapes make this Kantor’s most visually beautiful work. When sensual beauty comes into union with the breath at the center of the universe, he makes his finest sculpture.
–Mary Hull Webster
Artist, teacher, writer and lecturer