The title of Richard Tuttle’s series, ‘Source of Imagery’ (1995–2010), which was shown for the first time at Galleri Nicolai Wallner, suggests a ‘back to basics’ approach, something not unusual for an artist who for the past 40 years has made works pregnant with meaning using an extreme economy of material and gesture. Ten low, slight works of plywood and Styrofoam hung around the corners of the gallery, leaning casually on the walls, united not so much by their look or material as by a common sense of being the abstracted physical distillations of some small motion of the hand. Angular with rough, definite edges, at once improbable and relaxed, some of these sculptures variously resemble waves, the pi sign and the hunched back of Kokopelli. But the individual works are too wilfully independent to be co-opted into anything other than what they are.
The retina-burning, uneven blue rectangle of Source of Imagery (Eminence) (all works 1995–2010) beckoned you into the space, while a white cloth extension to one of the gallery walls delayed the revelation of two thick Styrofoam arcs (Source of Imagery [Tangle]), one of the bows finishing in a sharp, surprising undercut. The basic building block, as it were, for the series was a small, unassuming 3.5-centimetre cubic prop, made from either wood or Styrofoam, that was placed beneath each of the thin sculptures, seemingly insisting on the works’ separation from the gallery’s floor. This gave each piece a sense of balance and poise, as well as a gentle upward angle. Their low-lying perch was complemented by small, white rectangles of cloth hanging from each of the ceiling’s skylights, cumulatively charging the space with a dense, swirling relationship between the negative spaces and empty corners, encouraging you to bounce from one piece to another, visiting and re-visiting them at oblique angles to enact a walking conversation.
A room of ten corresponding framed drawings relied on the sculptures to come to life, each square piece of paper lined with a darker strip of paper along the bottom to create the impression of a corner. The scribbles, dots and careful shadings were the more flippant imaginary cousins of the sculptures, but thankfully Tuttle confined them to the second dimension. Nonetheless, it was a pleasure to experience a small, intimate body of new work from an artist who has been long established, lauded and already historicized as the subject of several institutional retrospectives. But rarer still was the pleasure in finding that ‘Source of Imagery’ didn’t require any contextualization or historicization – that it was resolutely of the present and quietly stronger than many of the artists currently working whom Tuttle has inspired.