Strategies of mapping, whether they be environmental, physical or architectural, define the artistic profile of John Wallbank, who simultaneously intersects the lines between drawing and sculpture through an ecology of material becoming. The graphic trait, elaborated through the digital, as seen in the artist’s book Drawing, 2013, is analogous to the function of his sculptures, exploring the distance between the raw material given by nature and the artist’s approach to the surroundings. By confronting the chaos of heterogeneous accumulations, the mimetic approach of John Wallbank consists of processing material until reaching the very essence of its elements (glass fibre, resin, cotton fabric), similar to a carving depth. Sculpture is conceived of as a process of sublation between voids and masses, the positive and the negative of material morphologies. By excavating these polarities, the artist prototypes sculptural models via spatial extensions, sequences and scales.
Interested in the adherence to natural and human forms, John Wallbank draws upon the register of classical sculpture to propose a new artistic inventory where geometry is replaced by mapping, form by processes of in-formation and composition by strategies of spatial extensions. It follows that the physicality of his work is marked by the elasticity of material intensities in between sculptural components, which investigate the mutability of shapes between concavities and convexities, lines and folds. When confronting the landscape, the artist’s strategy is contemporaneously an act of direct observation and a practice of rendering, moving across the lines and crosses of bodily extensions, mediated by the mastery of tools. As in climbing, the accumulative process of physical measurement finds a stylistic reference in the work of Kurt Schwitters who, by defining his artistic process, whether sculptural or graphic, famously stated: “Stone upon stone is building” (Schwitters, 1993). By mastering an imperfect equilibrium between concrete and abstract, chaos and synthesis, sedimentations and altitudes, in Wallbank’s hands sculpture reflects a trans-formative process of mapping and moulding.
Three contemporaneous projects developed with Arcade cover and articulate a spectrum for Wallbank’s strategies. In Untitled (Sewn Cube), presented at Frieze Sculpture, Regents Park, London 2017, the artist redefines the balancing act between solids and voids by assembling a volume from interwoven flat surfaces, which open to the public sphere, exploring the external relations of the sculptural envelope. At Arcade, the artist shifts attention to the inherent qualities of sculptural models by unveiling the dynamics in between sculptural forces and compositions, with a focus on the linkages that weave the structure. From the chaotic nature of raw materials, the artist configures the expressive axis of a large-scale sculptural model by exploring the inner and outer aspects of spatial extensions. Similarly, the project anticipated for DAMA, Turin, 2017, intends to respond to the existing Baroque architecture by colonizing the space via contrasts and relations among physical objects, as if in a dramatic tension. Moving away from the legacies of space and tradition, John Wallbank’s work becomes a vessel for experimental practices and new modes of positioning sculpture.
– Sara Buoso