“Before there is place, there is observation,” reflects Casey Warr. The wisdom had come to the sculptor of steel leviathans on a sweaty yoga mat, inspiring his upcoming exhibition, observe. “I realized that first there is me, then stimuli and then reaction,” he continues, recalling the old existentialist axiom that existence precedes essence. And this essence, or the sum total of his reactions to stimuli, began suddenly to reflect not the grating toil of hurry around him, but rather his soothing surrender to chaos. He closed his eyes and breathed. His place in the milieu was found, and an idea was born.
Grotesquely beautiful immensities of hot-rolled steel welded together with geometric genius are at the center of Warr’s new metalwork exhibition at Small Engine Gallery. “When you come into the space, you’re going to be confronted with two very large, strange shapes, and you are going to witness their interaction,” Warr says. “They’re going to be facing each other, catching each other’s eye, in a sort of standoff.”
You, the visitor, experience this standoff “on a scale that is not your own, and in a space that is not here.” The space-time continuum is abandoned for a long, cold journey through the equally infinite spectrum of relative size. Warr’s massive metallic beasts are, symbolically speaking, not massive at all—rather they are bizarre microbial probes cast into terrific confrontation with one another. And you, microtized accordingly, witness this alien drama in a comic book universe that may in reality be no more than the stretch of skin between one hair follicle and another, or something perhaps even smaller. “What would happen if you shrank at the speed of light for a year and still kept all of your senses?” Warr ventures. “What if you grew at the speed of light? Would you crack like an egg? Birth like a chicken?”
Warr has been working with metal nearly all his life. As a child, his grandfather gave him carte blanche to play with power tools unattended, and he quickly lost the fear of rotating saws and cutting torches. In college he worked in theater set production. One day his boss shoved him into a room alone with a bunch of welding equipment and told him to have at it. Combining heat and steel came to him like second nature, and soon he began seeking opportunities to construct monstrosities of his own mad design. A tenderhearted girlfriend then egged him on to register for an art class (of all godforsaken things) at the University of New Mexico, and the experience set the basic code for the creative program that guides his work to this day.
Renowned sculptor and UNM professor Steve Barry was partly to blame. He introduced Warr to minimalism, an artistic orientation that attempts to expose the true essence of things by stripping them of all unnecessary elements. Such an orientation fit well with Warr’s natural—and frighteningly masterful—affinity for multidimensional geometric conformity. That is, Warr understands the movement and fittings of shapes and angles like Kodak knows color. It’s in these geometric formations—which aren’t simple at all yet nonetheless represent the simple essence of all things—that Warr found the most profound manifestation of his creative drive. “My first project was to build a dodecahedron,” he says. “From there I could see it [geometry]. I just knew where I could push it, pull it, expand it …”
Regarding the matter of observation and place: We activate our consciousness, we observe. In observation we discover our place, the space we occupy, the meaning we attribute to it and the actions we must take to conform or break free. But beneath and above us the same process occurs at infinite levels in either direction, whether on the surface of our skin or out in space.
A voyage on the wayside of that strange continuum, observe. opens on Friday, Nov. 1, at the Small Engine Gallery in Barelas (1413 Fourth Street SW). Reception starts at 6pm and ends whenever. It’s free. Or you can visit by appointment anytime in November. For more information, contact Casey Warr at steelgeometry@gmail.