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William Corwin: Image as form

William Corwin’s oeuvre consists of small sculptures cast in such materials as lead, plaster, bronze, and dirt – each material is exploited to a different end, while each work negotiates the trinity of image, form, and materiality.  They often reference the  mythological  as well as a very real pragmatic present. In this sense his works are discursive, and recursive, while  their subject-matter and contents are heterogeneous, interdisciplinary, and multicultural. Often he  is a time- traveler, who has filled his sculpture with esoteric, mystical, and mundane knowledge. The point of view is speculative and is rooted in Western Metaphysics. Yet, his esthetic is crude, verging on the abject. From these components, he makes chunky fragments, which he aggregates into assemblages and thematic installations.


With this exhibition titled “Green Ladder”, Corwin deploys new tactics, but his games remain the  same.   While he has made  a significant shift in terms of imagery, he has remained true to his themes of the synecdoche,  the  aesthetics of crudity, and the use of image as form. Aesthetically his “ladders” are chunky,  crudely modeled, and their casting still has a DIY quality: each work is  presented as if they had come directly from the mold or sand pit in which they were cast. What is gone is his  affinity to 1950s Brut Sculpture and with it the  complex assemblage of esoteric images.  This time, Corwin has  collapsed all  his references, into a single abstract icon of a “ladder.”


Corwin uses his “ladder” at times as a device which functions formally as both abstract and referential; similar to Jasper Johns’ targets and flags. At other times, when his ladder-forms are chunky, overlayed, or tangled together they are reminiscent of Philip Guston, alone they are like the misplaced objects of Rene Magritte. At still other times, they recall Eva Hesse’s irregular, grid-like structures.  In these affinities, we discover that Corwin’s ladder-like structures, though less obviously symbolic, still function within the realms of the emblematic and  the subjective.  As such  we discover Corwin’s new vocabulary –  still works as perfunctory tokens in a game  of semiotics (signification)   hermeneutics  (contextualization)  and epistemology  (categorization). This too is a game that  he is committed to playing, but now it’s just more subtle.  


One last note on scale. None of Corwin’s “ladders” are scaled to “life-size,” instead they are representations consisting of nothing more than runners and cross bars, which have either been intentionally deformed or otherwise altered by the process of their modeling and production.  Perhaps, in their imperfections we find still another  source of interpretation with which he has  been able to preserve his usual references to multiple belief systems.  In this case to  Jacob’s ladder, the ladder as Hindu icon,  as well as the ladder as a metaphor of Capitalism’s promise of  climbing the ladder of success.  The problem is Corwin’s ladders are not big enough to reach their  goal, but instead  the viewer finds themselves turned into Gulliver in the land of the Lilliputians.

Saul Ostrow, April 27, 2021

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