Jonathan Qualben’s pieces, Marquette #4 and Marquette #5, can currently be seen at Gallery 903. These elongated sculptures measure nearly 4 feet in height, but only inches in width and depth. They are worked from pigmented concrete.
The material is imperfectly smoothed over a majority of a piece, with disruptions ranging from small depressions to tectonic plane shifts. Areas such as these appear craggy, which gives the impression of rock or mountainous features. Brown and rusty tones help to reinforce an earthy appearance. The concrete that makes up these pieces is earth material, ash and rock. Similar to something that might be made by Andy Goldsworthy if he were to use manufactured materials with intentions for a home of the wealthier elite.
Both works appear to be abstracted figures. Marquette #5 looks christ-like with body stretched and arms positioned in a cross. In fact, according to the dictionary, Marquette was the name of a Jesuit missionary and early explorer of the americas. Despite what may be religious in inspiration, the pieces are relatively unassuming. As with other works by Qualben, visible on his personal website, he works with the human form without what appears to be much focus on meaning. Viewable within his Sculpture section, he states, “I love that the mark of a sweeping transitory hand, executed in a moment, like a watercolorist’s brushstroke, could be fixed in so permanent a record.” The artist’s focus seems largely on the intricacies of the material itself, not on any statement that it could make.
I have mixed feelings about this work. I am drawn to it for what it does well in appearance. Specifically, the subtle changes and personality of the concrete as a result of its forming. Its natural look is juxtaposed by its semi-natural material. But, the style is “safe” in the sense that it challenges no boundaries, questions nothing and offends no one. Of Gallery 903’s works on display, Marquette #4 and #5 take the greatest step away from this safety zone. And it is not a very long step.