Marc D’Estout, Deity, 2020. Steel, stainless steel, cement, and patina, 3.5 x 23 x 9.5 in. Photo: r.r.jones

Marc D’Estout

San Francisco

Jack Fischer Gallery

Marc D’Estout’s exhibition “Irrational Objects” (on view through October 15, 2022) features (mostly) small-scale sculptures that defy gravity, as well as our ability to figure out how they were made. The definition of irrational that makes the most sense in the context of these odd, exquisite, and sometimes hilarious pieces is “not governed by or according to reason.” Some works refer to an actual phenomenon—the splash that a drop makes, for example, famously captured in a 1957 photograph by Harold Edgerton, which D’Estout poetically interprets in Impact (2022). Or there’s Sneeze (2021), a wall-mounted work in which two adjoining, explosively organic shapes suggest the spreading patterns of germs as they jet out of the nostrils. The elongated, faceted shapes of Blackbird, Pelican, and Red Wing (all 2021) allude to birds in the same abstract way as Brancusi’s iconic Bird in Space—though D’Estout allows himself a slight tilt toward realism in terms of colors and surface textures that slightly enhance the visual reference to wings or feathers.

Brancusi and his practice serve as useful, if not perfect, points of reference when studying these works. D’Estout is an incredibly patient, old-school kind of sculptor, employing a slew of mad skills to fabricate, manipulate, and orchestrate his materials into shapes that imply rather than declare their points of reference. Decades of working on vintage cars—an exacting craft—have given him an almost otherworldly ability to create seemingly pristine, exquisitely formed shapes out of steel, a far-from-cooperative medium. Some works are allowed an aged-looking, metal-invoking patina, but more often D’Estout paints them in complex and inscrutable ways. The dual/dueling sneeze globules, for example, have an elegant Easter-egg blue tint. On close examination, though, their speckled surfaces seem to be teeming with microbial life—tiny, irregular globular shapes that begin to shimmy if you look at them too long. Whether they have been created by paint or its sanded-away absence remains a mystery.

Another key to understanding these works lies in Surrealist ideas about the power of sculptural objects to transform dreams into reality. In The Champ (2021)—the largest work in the show by far, at more than 15 feet wide and nearly three feet high—D’Estout makes us feel as if we are looking at a fragment of an alien spacecraft, found abandoned in the desert, its finish worn away. The Champ’s Kilroy-like animation is both funny and alarming: rectangular “eyes” seem to stare at you from across the gallery.

Deity (2020), a much smaller, delicate wall piece, leaves an even deeper impression, using light and shadow to extraordinary effect. This smallish ring of crusty metal oriented perpendicularly to the wall hovers about six feet above the floor, as if barely moored, suggestive of some kind of instrument or gauge. Light seems to emanate from within it, spreading upward, while darkness falls out of its underside—a shadow, of course, but paired with the mystical light, it seems equally magical. A tendril of steel cable emerges from the ring where it meets the wall, its end terminating in a delicate curve that reinforces the sensation of cyborg-like inner animation. It is this sense of a secret life that makes many of D’Estout’s deceptively simple works so memorable.