Born 1978 in Los Angeles, California; lives in Los Angeles, California
Ry Rocklen’s sculptures paradoxically reflect at once a respect for the Duchampian sculptural tradition and an anarchic rebellion against art historical constraints. Collecting cast-off objects from the streets, dumps, or thrift stores, he doctors and assembles them into readymade sculptures charged with an eccentric delicacy that gives them a second, more “poetic” life. Rocklen strategically capitalizes on the viewer’s mental and emotional associations, as Robert Rauschenberg did for his Combines, by selecting objects as much for their cultural connotations as their form. At times employing a wry sense of humor to balance his stringent editing techniques, Rocklen treats manufactured items, like toys, food packaging, furniture remnants, and construction materials, with a spontaneity he traces back to his youth and the development of the creative process through pretend play. This sense of play is reenacted in Rocklen’s process-based studio practice, as he sifts through and rearranges society’s leftovers.
Visual puns dominated Rocklen’s earlier work, transforming his exhibitions into nonverbal comedic performances activated by the personas meticulously infused into each of his sculptures. 10,000 Year Wait (2005) features a chair whose legs levitate “magically” inside four wineglasses (the punch line is that the chair is crafted of Styrofoam, floating in the water-filled glasses). The Harborer (2005), a pair of crutches entangled in a black fishing net and shoved into yellow rubber boots filled with cast-resin “ice,” evokes the story of a sea captain whose adventures at sea went sorely awry. In Juice Box Living (2005), eighteen juice boxes arranged on the gallery floor spew rainbow “juice” arcs of painted wire. While narratives unfold like bizarre one-liners, Rocklen’s sculptures also deal ingeniously with formal issues such as weight, mass, and scale, often pitting giant against minuscule, or heavy against feather-light, recalling Tom Friedman’s Postminimalist works in which forms are determined by their materials.
The recent works in Just Us, Rocklen’s 2007 exhibition at Los Angeles’s Black Dragon Society, display a more refined sensitivity to his objects’ unique features that reveals his increasing interest in objects as pure form and in releasing what he calls their “soul residue.” A baggie tied to a stick propped against a wall as if abandoned by a hobo, The Surrenderer (2007) prompts a story about the mystic serendipity required to realize the piece. In Treaty (2007), a Christmas tree has been “mummified” in bright white two-part epoxy putty, accentuating a dainty green string tied around the trunk. Hanging from a cord encircling the gallery, Health Medallion (2007) dangles like a yo-yo or hypnotizing charm over the doorjamb. Each piece’s meditative simplicity contributes to an ambience simultaneously serene and absurd. Rocklen’s move toward creating sculptures in which “nothing becomes what it isn’t” distills the essence of his materials, resulting in works that, while less and less figurative, become ever more true to the objects he reveres. TRINIE DALTON
Ry Rocklen, Rollin' on 23’s, 2007. Glasses, pressure-treated wood, concrete, and water, 23 x 144 x 23 in. (58.4 x 182.9 x 58.4 cm). Private collection.