Herb Alpert’s artistic expressions are on exhibition at the Robert Berman Gallery at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica.
“In addition to his acclaimed musical accomplishments, Alpert has spent more than half his life as a respected abstract expressionist painter and sculptor,” said Caroline Graham, Alpert’s publicist at C4 Global Communications. “He began painting in 1969 and has experimented with a number of different styles and materials, perhaps none more unusual than one of his mediums of choice: organic coffee. Alpert has exhibited all over the world, from New York to Berlin.”
Alpert’s paintings and sculptures have been exhibited at numerous galleries and museums: including the Tennessee State Museum, Pasadena Museum of California Art, Art Cologne, Art Fair Basel, Molly Barnes Gallery, Santa Monica and Ace Gallery Beverly Hills, said Robert Berman, owner of the gallery of the same name in Bergamot Station in Santa Monica.
“Alpert’s towering Black Totems were inspired by indigenous sculptural forms from the Pacific Northwest,” said the acclaimed gallery owner.
Currently his work is on display in an exhibition aptly titled in•ter•course at the Berman Gallery.
“In what began as hand-sized forms, Alpert scaled them up and cast them as ten to 18-foot monoliths, acknowledging totemic explorations by fellow sculptors Henry Moore, Augusts Rodin, Constantin Brancusi and others,” said Graham.
Alpert is an important artist in the modern abstract expressionist movement. His work, like that of Moore, is a more spontaneous art with imperfections evident in the sculpting. Moore too carried an indigenous influence, that of the Toltec-Maya sculptural form and the statue of Chac-Mool.
“The Statue of Chac-Mool measures a little more than 9-feet in length. Its beautiful head is turned to one side in a menacing attitude, and it has a face of ferocious appearance. It is cut from a stone almost as hard as granite. Seated upon a pedestal, with its arms crossed upon the abdomen, it appears as if about to raise itself in order to execute a cruel and bloody threat,” said Dr. Le Plongeon, a famous archeologist who discovered the statue, in his communications at the Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, April 25, 1877, regarding his explorations in the Yucatan Peninsula.
In the words of English sculptor and artist Henry Moore, “Now I really make the little idea from clay, and I hold it in my hand. I can turn it, look at it from underneath, see it from one view, hold it against the sky, imagine it any size I like, and really be in control, almost like G-d creating something.”
Rumanian artist Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957) on the other hand shaved away every detail until it was nearly lost. He used a few basic shapes, the egg, the blade of grass and the smooth pebble and worked in wood, marble or metal.
“Simplicity is not an end in art,” said Brancusi. “But one arrives at simplicity in spite of oneself in drawing nearer to the reality of things.”
In the twentieth-century, sculpture advanced in form into that of antirealism. When Brancusi arrived in France in 1904, he was offered a job as assistant to Rodin. In 1907, Brancusi became the the first to do the actual carving of the sculpture. He said, “what is real is not the external form, but the essence of things.”
In the 19th-century, Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) “transformed everything,” said Brancusi. Indeed Rodin had singlehandedly changed the medium, breathing new life into the art. He presented a realistic versus a stylized nude. He emphasized personal experience as the source of art rather than academic art, using incompletion as the power of suggestion. He too used an unfinished surface and suppression of detail. Much like Moore, Alpert draws from an indigenous people.
He also uses intensity, frozen in an instant of emotion, like that of Die Brücke and Der Blaue Reiter, two early German 20th-century movements that utilize unnatural color and potent forms to heighten emotional content. Franz Marc (1880–1916) was a member of the Der Blaue Reiter movement. Der Turm der blauen Pferde (1913), or The Tower of Blue Horses’ exhibited at Entartete Kunstand in 1937 was its last. Its removal from the exhibition was by Hitler’s order. The original work has ever since been missing. Alpert could easily have owned membership in this Der Blaue Reiter.
In one of his works in the in•ter•course exhibition, Alpert’s abstract expressionist work, Chumash, is a representation of a three-dimensional form that is analyzed, broken up an reassembled in a very melted cubist form. The lines are vertical yet not completely disassembled, as in Cubism, like Marcel Duchamp’s (1887-1968) Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (Nu descendant un escalier n° 2) (1912), an oil on canvas painting. Chumash is an imposing piece, interwoven with a native spirituality. It is evocative, ethereal, something pulled from a vision quest. This ceremony, the vision quest, was guided by the tribe’s shaman and the sacred, poisonous and hallucinogenic datura, which to the drinker was a dream helper.
“In their quest for visions and supernatural power, the Chumash were one of many peoples throughout Northcand South America that resorted to the use of hallucinogenic plants,” according to The Journal of California Anthropology, in The Datura Cult Among the Chumash, by Richard B. Applegate. “Datura was one of the most widely known…the Datura Cult all show common themes of divination and contact with spirits of the dead…the peoples of Southern California thoroughly integrated the Datura cult into their vision quest and ceremonial life…Datura in moderation was thought to have a stabilizing and socializing effect.”
Rock art in caves is believed by researchers to be the result of paintings created during such vision quests.
“Datura was regarded as the source of all supernatural power, and was relied on in the quest for a dream helper or guardian spirit,” writes the New Scientist. “Both the vision-inducing ritual and the graphic depiction of strange and transcendental creatures are obvious attempts to gain some measure of control over the threatening forces of the unseen world.”
So too with Alpert’s work. They are symbolic of the smoke, the fog of the dream, during the drug-induced ritual.
Totems were sometimes free-standing, sometimes the front of a door or a mortuary monument where the inner and upper section of the totem was carved out for a resting place for the deceased.
“Datura wrightii regel — wright’s datura — is of the Nightshade Family,” reports psychotropia.co, a database site on psychoactive plants. “This Southern California species of thorn apple has apparently been used for ritual and medicinal purposes for more than five thousand years. During the colonial period, shamanic use of the plant was extremely common among many tribes, much to the distress of Catholic missionaries. This Datura is found only in Southern California and is especially common in the territories once occupied by the Chumash in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. The Chumash regarded this Datura as a female spirit being — the old woman Momoy (momoy is the Chumash name for Datura wrightii). They had shamans specializing in the use of Datura; such a shaman would be known as alshukayayich, the one who causes intoxication or, in Spanish, toloachero, the datura giver.”
The Chumash have a long tradition of creating ritual paintings on rocks and in caves, says the database site.
“Some of these five-thousand-year-old paintings have been interpreted as evidence of a Datura cult,” cites psychotropia.co. “They also incorporate what are dearly shamanic elements. Datura visions have apparently shaped all of the Chumash rock art. Many paintings provide symbolic representations of elements that were significant in the visions. In some ways, the painters translated their visions into the symbolic code of the Chumash culture.”
Alpert’s soaring forms appear as frozen smoke, or jazz given physical form, said Graham.
Alpert’s in•ter•course collection will be on view at the Robert Berman Gallery in the Bergamot Station Arts Center May 4 – June 8, 2013. A video and catalogue will accompany the exhibit. Robert Berman Gallery, Bergamot Station Arts Center, 2525 Michigan Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90404, Tuesday through Saturday, 11am-6pm and by appointment 310-315-1937.