OILER- John Clement in Brooklyn

February 8, 2011 · View Comments
By Melissa Stern

Bigger really is better. This was my thought as I left the Causey Contemporary Gallery after watching John Clement and crew erect an 18-foot-tall welded steel sculpture titled Oiler. Clement, already well known for his large and ambitious sculpture, became smitten with the idea of building one of his pieces using industrial-sized pipe originally manufactured for the oil industry. Several trips to the American Pipe Bending Company in Tulsa, Okla., one of only two places in the country that manufactures 22-inch diameter steel pipe, some fancy talking to a factory used to manufacturing for Big Oil rather than Big Art, a monster truck trip across the country and a willing gallery owner all coalesced into the wild scene I witnessed in Williamsburg.

Clement invited the public to watch him and his crack team wrangle 8 tons of steel pipe and turn them into art. It was an impressive ballet of man, metal and torch, with a variable-reach forklift thrown in for fun. Donning my hardhat and ear protection, I watched as Clement maneuvered the smaller of the two arced pipes into a standing position. By “smaller,” I mean 12-feet by 12-feet and weighing 1,800 pounds. He engineered the piece into place with a crane in such a way that the steel looked effortlessly balanced, a graceful and sexy swoop gesture reaching high into the air.

This is what makes Clement’s work so lovely. No matter how big and macho the metal, the gesture conveyed is always like a bit of elegant calligraphy. He usually paints his pieces in absurd, wonderful colors. One series was painted in colors that were plucked from the palate of Starburst candy. This use of color steers the work away from the macho-man welder myth and conveys the lighter side of the man of steel. No word yet as to the future color of Oiler, but I’m voting for pink.
Through Mar. 6, Causey Contemporary Gallery, 92 Wythe Ave., Brooklyn, 718-218-8939.

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