Tinnie’s Flat, 2005. Stainless steel, acrylic, polurethane, and projection, 15 x 10.2 x 7.5 ft.

Clay Ellis: Mass, Time, and Memory

As his 40th birthday approached, the Canadian sculptor Clay Ellis discovered he no longer wanted to make the massive steel objects that had established his reputation in the 1990s. These mysterious works, notable for their authoritative presence, seductive forms, and complex allusions, staked out new and personal territory for construction in metal. Ellis’s steel sculptures fused the seemingly irreconcilable traditions of modeling and additive construction as he forced recalcitrant materials, mainly industrial off-cuts and found objects, into swollen forms, employing a laborious process of joining and grinding to create suave surfaces without disguising the effort of turning steel into nuanced volumes. The space-greedy, ambiguous sculptures that resulted were at once monoliths and constructions. Visible traces of joins reminded us that they were made through a process of addition that placed them firmly within a Modernist tradition of collage, yet they were also dense, volumetric, and aggressive in their displacement of space. And while they resisted easy explanations, they also called up a wealth of associations with architecture and place, the body, and much more: some of Ellis’s most memorable steel works seemed to reconstitute, in abstract terms, not only the mass and bulk of, say, Hindu temples, but also the voluptuousness of the entwined couples carved on the façades of those temples.