Jerry Rankin is a Montana artist who seems able to come up with completely new ideas in every project he undertakes. Only a few of these from his career are available on his web site. Recently he created two sculptures, variants of a theme, that have no precedent in anything he’s done before. Of thin, flat, black steel, they are very simple in design, being straight-edged boomerang-like shapes with one or two slots, respectively, cut into them. Yet they are intriguingly rich in perceptual surprises. I had the opportunity to borrow the cardboard maquettes, thinking I might try to illustrate these effects. Instead, I discovered an unforeseen aspect of how these objects relate to their surroundings.

I mounted one of the maquettes in my study, and took down the pictures from the wall behind to remove distractions. I set about trying to capture what happens when you look edge-on at the piece, seeing both sides at once, one with each eye (and only with that eye). Each side is a horizontally flipped version of the other, so the brain can’t fuse the two images into a consistent representation.

I never succeeded in that effort, but I soon became aware of the captivating shadows cast on the wall. The window opposite was actually a rather complex light source, due to the distribution of bright and dark areas outside. I also had a tungsten lamp in the room which cast a warmer light on the sculpture and on the warm-colored walls. The result was a shadow with multiple overlapping penumbras whose darkness and color depended on the various angles and the distance of the maquette from the wall. Fascinated, I played with a number of arrangements, as you can see below. Note that in these images I have exaggerated the color variation, though it was already quite distinct to the eye. I should add that my impression of the colors seen on two different computers varies significantly, so I’m not sure how it will appear to you. Ideally, the warm color is more that of a lemon than a peach.

As you can guess from the title page in the set above, I went so far as to mock up a bi-fold card, which has the two triptychs printed back-to-back. If you have strong powers of spatial imagination, perhaps you can visualize that after opening the front title page, you see (on the left) the left image of the upper panel facing (on the right) the left image of the bottom panel. Other images appear as the second fold is opened.

A great strength of these sculptures seems to be in their stark, hard-edged minimalism, so I felt a bit odd with my softening, complicating, and adding color. But I really enjoyed the lively interaction of sculpture and shadow, which brings out some of their quirkiness. Though in several ways similar to a more monumental, severe, elegant, and conceptual Ellsworth Kelly I saw a few weeks ago in Minneapolis, they possess a friendlier personality, and, perhaps, a more engaging depth. I’d definitely choose the Rankin over the Kelly for my garden, if both were to be had at appropriate size.

Ellsworth Kelly: Double Curve, 1988

Ellsworth Kelly: Double Curve, 1988

My questions are about the status of the photographs in relation to the sculpture itself. Whether or not of interest in its own right, is such a study useful in appreciating the sculpture? Are the photographs distracting from the subject? As audience, would you rather experience the sculpture directly before viewing any such photographic interpretations? As the sculptor, would you prefer, for publicity purposes, a simpler, more direct image?