Dubbed “The Black Series” for their rich, inky patina, Perlman created all nine sculptures in the Joel Perlman: New Works show locally at his home studio last winter.
He used what he calls the “lost-styrofoam method” as a nod to the 6,500-year-old lost-wax casting technique, where a sculpture is made of wax, put in a mold and then replaced by poured molten metal. In this case, instead of wax, Perlman first constructs his sculptures out of half-inch-thick sheets of dense insulation foam, but the process of turning that foam into metal — which is achieved at a foundry in Thailand — remains very similar to that of his ancient forebears.
“I’ll spend a couple of hours just making shapes, until I have a big pile of them. And then I’ll start to stick some stuff together. Initially I do it just with a hot glue gun and toothpicks,” the artist says, pointing out that he never plans his sculptures before making them.
Instead, Perlman finds his compositions through exploration and the creative process.
“I’m just winging it. I have no idea what’s going to happen until I’m doing it,” he adds, explaining that deciding when to stop is one of his most difficult challenges. “When I get something, I let it sit for a while and then I’ll look at it again, and eventually I’ll commit to it,” he says, adding later, “You just try and find that magic spot.”
Demonstrating his keen artistic eye, and indeed an ability to stop at just the right time, each piece comprises dozens of foam cutouts, and his finished creations cast complex silhouettes, alive with movement.
Only one of the sculptures at Mark Borghi’s gallery exceeds a height of 24 inches because, Perlman says, this manageable size is ideal for his Water Mill studio where he made them.
The artist usually splits his time between NYC (where he teaches at the School of Visual Arts) and the Hamptons, but he settled full-time in Water Mill during the pandemic, and now commutes to the city to teach his classes, which he still enjoys.
“About maybe the early, early ’70s I came out here,” Perlman, 79, says, explaining how he first fell in love with the East End. “I had an art moving company to support myself and I delivered a piece out here on a spring day, and the sun was out and the light was so incredible, and I thought, ‘I’ve never seen a place like this, I’ve got to somehow get out here.’”
Some 50 years later, the now-successful artist has a lovely home and studio here and adds his latest show to a long list of exhibitions and accolades, including being a recipient of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts grant and a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Award, as well as having work in important collections, like the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., the Los Angeles County Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Amazingly, considering they put this exhibition together so quickly, Perlman and Borghi only hooked up about a month ago when they ran into each other at an art opening in Sag Harbor. “I had just gotten the black pieces back, the whole shipment from Thailand, so I invited him over and, as opposed to most dealers, he said, ‘Oh great, I’ll come in on Monday,’” Perlman recalls. “And he came, and I said to him, ‘I’d really like to show some stuff in Bridge.”
Borghi agreed and then assembled Perlman’s show in record time.
“He set up the whole show by himself. When I came, it was already up, and I just loved it the way it was,” Perlman says, complimenting the gallerist’s curatorial prowess. “I think he’s very good at that. He’s got a terrific eye, and he’s very, very knowledgeable about art history.”
For his part, Perlman likes his work to present a precarious feeling to go along with the more formal concerns an art historian might describe.
“The element of danger is really important to me — I love all that stuff. I had 50 years of motorcycles, and I have a sports car. I like stuff that goes fast,” he says, also noting in the Borghi show announcement, “Weight, danger, movement, negative space are the elements. For inspiration I look at the past, I try and look into the future, I look at everything. I never know where the next idea will come from. It’s an adventure, a journey every time.”
Joel Perlman: New Works is on view at Mark Borghi Fine Art in Bridgehampton (2426 Main Street). Visit markborghi.com for more info.