Irving Kriesberg, Bat (1990-2000), stoneware, 7″ x 10″ x 3″
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If I didn’t know that the artist responsible for the sculptures at Lori Bookstein Fine Art was alive and kicking, I’d have sworn they’d just been dusted off and flown in form an archaeological dig somewhere in the Middle East.
Shaped in bronze and clay, Irving Kriesberg’s cats, sheep, apes, birds and demons reach “back five thousand [years],” as the artist has it, with exuberant, rough-hewn authority. The works are blunt and nubbly encapsulations of muscle, symbol and spirit. Whatever the actual size on an individual piece—and many of them are measured in inches and not feet—it achieves a monumentality that has as much to do with the prerogatives of magic and myth as it does with sculptural form.
The gravity inherent in Mr. Kriesberg’s robustly handmade art is inseparable form its often ribald humor. Looking at the maternal figures aligned along a shelf on the west side of the gallery, we see him honoring the Venus of Willendorf, that most primal of all mothers, while giving her a once-over that’s more than a little salacious.
An artist who relishes life in all its shapes, sizes and species, Mr. Kriesberg has a sharp eye for the elemental gesture: Prowling Cat (1992) hilariously embodies all that is stealthy and self-possessed about its title creature, and The White Owl (1992) could well be the prototype for that baleful and clownish bird.
The 82-year-old Mr. Kriesberg began working in clay around 1985 and had, prior to then, established a not inconsiderable reputation as a painter. Having seen some of his pictures, I found that even the best of them went in one eye and out the other. Yet there’s no way in hell I’m going to forget these profoundly comic sculptures, not least because Mr. Kriesberg’s effete and smarmy denizens of that fiery realm are an unforgettable delight.
© 2001 Mario Naves
Originally published in the January 29, 2001 edition of The New York Observer.