Dies Irae







Agnus Dei






Sculptures trace the history of warfare
By Victoria Donohoe, Philadelphia Inquirer, posted Sunday, Jan. 14, 2007

The Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts, whose focus has so often been on abstract art, is changing direction a bit with a significant solo show of new representational figure sculpture honoring fallen G.I.s and other soldiers.

The mere existence of the show may mean abstraction is going to have to move over and make room for a different kind of representational sculpture, even though much of the excitement of these simplified figure sculptures traces back to classical sources.

The 14 featured bronzes, titled A Requiem for a Soldier, come from artist Julia Stratton of Philadelphia. She is a sculptor who stuck to creating recognizable figures and faces in bitter resistance to abstraction's longtime popularity and lucrative returns. Until Stratton's work surfaced, DCCA had been trying for years to find art able to address the theme of war yet at the same time focus on the spiritual and human instead of the overly political aspects.

Though these relatively small works refer to warfare today and down through the ages, Stratton's stylish and dramatic horseman, and her running and walking figures both pursued and in pursuit were inspired by Mozart's Requiem Mass in D Minor. Each bronze in turn relates to one of the 14 sections of that requiem. And viewers are invited to listen to an audio recording of it, as well as to reflect on links between war and religion.

The achievement in this series of works is that Stratton, instead of using the figure as just another object, is brave enough to admit being concerned with the condition of man. For her, attachment to reality is hardly a manacle for the mind. This is an exceptionally fine show.

Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts, 200 S Madison, Wilmington. To March 4. Tue, Thu, Fri, Sat 10-5, Wed & Sun noon-5. Adults $5. 302-656-6466.

Contact art critic Victoria Donohoe at The Inquirer, 800 River Rd., Conshohocken, Pa. 19428. © 2007 Philadelphia Inquirer and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

Explore two artists' different responses to war

Posted Sunday, January 14, 2007

Artists who work with words or paint or bronze will forever try to reflect the actions and effects of those who work with bullets and bombs.

The Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts, 200 S. Madison St., Wilmington, has two exhibitions related to war. Some pieces clearly reflect their creators' reactions to Iraq, where President Bush this week vowed to send another 20,000 soldiers. Many pieces, however, carry an emotional relevance that reaches across generations.

"A Requiem for a Soldier," a collection of 14 bronze sculptures by Julia Stratton of Philadelphia, seems the more universal of the two exhibitions. (It is open through March 4; "Baghdad and other unfinished business," by Peter Williams, a professor of art at the University of Delaware, is open through Feb. 4.)

Stratton, 36, has been enamored with Mozart's "Requiem Mass in D Minor" since she was a child; her mother, a classical pianist, might have enabled her habit. When she began making war-related bronze sculptures -- all of her pieces are small, displayed atop pedestals or hung on small swaths of wall -- Stratton realized she could make a connection between her work and the music. It gave her that thread artists so often seek. "It allowed me," she says, "to explore different sides of the motif."

And so at the DCCA, in a small room called the E. Avery Draper Showcase, visitors are encouraged to borrow a CD player loaded with the Requiem's 14 parts, each sequentially corresponding with one of Stratton's sculptures. ("In my mind," she says, "it's absolutely inseparable from the music.")

The first piece, "Introitus (Soldiers Running)," depicts three soldiers bearing weapons and moving into battle. It mirrors No. 14, "Communio (Soldiers Running)," which has three soldiers running away from the rest of the exhibit. It's not clear if they're victorious, just as the exhibition as a whole doesn't seem politically motivated.

The third piece, "Dies Irae (The Charge)," matches well the music to which it's attached. A chorus of voices is driven by furious strings and horns; a cluster of soldiers, some with shields, all with spears upright, surges forward. A sword-wielding angel atop a pole leads the group. Three horses and a dog assist.

On the wall is "Tuba Mirum (All That is Hidden)," which is two-dimensional but for an egg-shaped hole with a heap of bodies, many twisted, a few curled into fetal position, and a man running in the distance with a bugle in hand.

Two pieces that beg for longer looks are "Confutatis (Last Hour)" and "Hostias (Suicide Bomber)." The former is a sort of obliquely situated diorama, open but for a wall of flames centered on the far left corner -- its many scenes include people with torches searching the streets and houses, a family huddled in its cellar, others climbing out a window or propping a chair against a door.

The latter, perhaps the most resonant for contemporary viewers, depicts a man, nude but for a vest of explosives, frozen atop a sphere and a cloud in an Olympian manner: looking skyward, running, right arm outstretched as if making an offering. The left thumb and index finger pinch a short, taut string attached to the vest. The accompanying music seems suited for genuflection.

The sizes of Stratton's pieces, quite the opposite of the iconic statues that enlarge moments of battle, allow visitors to remove and insert themselves at will. The warring seems sadder, even avoidable. And the smooth, dark, dense surfaces at the same time suggest permanence.

"Baghdad and other unfinished business," meanwhile, is both more and less defined. Williams, who less than three years ago moved from Detroit to Wilmington, chose to identify his war. But to assume a political stance could fully explain his oil-on-canvas paintings would be foolish. The phrase "and other unfinished business" is an apt addendum, for Williams does nothing less than open his mind and some of what swirls within it: politics, race, war and daily struggles.

Several of his works include what seem like bulbous beings. He uses swooping strokes and gives them disturbingly alert eyes. One, "Maurice," is awash with shades of brown and some pinkish features on a being whose head seems to have snapped back. Whatever Williams imagined it to be, it is dead.

Surrealism is in many of these pieces -- in "NY Night," the grey buildings have eyes; "Night Driving, Baghdad" gives life to what seems meant to be a car, and a green area near its center suggests night-vision goggles. With "Facsimile," Williams painted a large canvas with two openings to look like wooden doors with windows. Faces and fists float near words such as ration, repair, rational and reparation.

"There are so many things that happen and overlap," Williams says, "and the tragedy sometimes gets lost."

He brings viewers closer to that tragedy with "Bombscape" and "Ribbon," which on small canvases display colorful, messy chunks of oil; it isn't difficult to imagine scattered human remains in their place.

Williams and Stratton created their works independently of each other. Neither has seen the other's project, both of which have been at the DCCA since December. Stratton's seems a bit more linear, Williams' more abstract. But Williams' self-appointed task, he says, was "to be almost a history painter." His use of visual metaphors and his subjective mixing of world events and personal experiences, then, might be a more accurate representation of how history is recorded.

Copyright ©2007, The News Journal.