James Wines

Homage to Léger


Not on display

James Wines born 1932
Painted concrete and steel
Object: 470 × 600 × 650 mm
Presented by Mr and Mrs H.J. Heinz II through the American Federation of Arts 1965


Homage to Léger is an abstract sculpture by the American artist James Wines that resembles a large tilted disc. This disc comprises a broadly circular steel frame which surrounds flat areas of concrete that have been painted orange, blue, green and white. The concrete areas appear bright in colour but matte in surface texture, while the encircling steel has a black surface coating. There are additional abstract elements attached to the disc, including loops of steel, a blue and white block of concrete and a cross-shaped piece of metal from which extends a steel rod with a toothed edge. Displayed on a tall plinth, the sculpture appears geometric and machine-like. The artist’s name and the year of fabrication are cast in a steel plate that is attached to the sculpture, and the work as a whole is loosely fixed to a steel sheet base.

Homage to Léger is one of group of works that Wines made in 1961–9 using steel and reinforced concrete. Other examples from this period include a series of Suspended Discs, such as Suspended Disc II 1963 (Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis). Wines made the works in this group by forging metal parts but also employed found objects. Working in his studio at Broome Street, New York, Wines incorporated into these works both the open graphic line of the steel and the dense volumes of the reinforced cement. This approach was grounded largely in structural techniques characteristic of building construction: an initial frame or armature is filled in to define light, shadow and mass. As the artist stated in 1966:

I have taken my cue from the construction process of architecture. When the supporting steel skeleton is erected there is an open-work sculpture. The concrete fills in to complete the mass. In sculpture this wedding of linear shape with the monolith makes it possible for me to relate the textural variety of soft and hard surfaces, industrial geometry with organic form, graphic line against modeled shape – all this within a tightly woven construction.
(Quoted in Charles A. Dana Creative Arts Center 1966, p.4.)

In line with this emphasis on structure and form, the artist noted in a 1965 letter to Michael Compton, Assistant Keeper at the Tate Gallery, that the colour employed in Homage to Léger was used to break down specific surfaces and spaces rather than to emphasise any painterly relationships (see Alley 1981, pp.763–4).

As well as twentieth-century architects such as Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Khan, Wines was influenced by the black lines and bold hues used by modernist painters Fernand Léger and Piet Mondrian (Alley 1981, pp.763–4). Although the original title of Homage to Léger had been Disc and One Quarter, the work was renamed on completion as Wines felt ‘a great debt to this master’ (Wines in 1965, quoted in Alley 1981, pp.763–4). In 1966 Wines noted that his coloured sculptures were based on Léger’s practice of dividing areas with black lines to shift dimension and weight (Wines in Charles A. Dana Creative Arts Center 1966, p.5), as can be seen in paintings such as Léger’s Still Life with a Beer Mug 1921–2 (Tate T02035). In Homage to Léger the black lines are the steel sections that can be read both graphically, in two-dimensions, and as three-dimensional shapes. As such, unlike the flat painted surface of a painting, here light and shadow, as well as the reflections on the angles and directions of planes, enable colour to exist in a constantly changing state.

By the late 1960s Wines began to devote his time to architectural and environmental art projects. In 1969 he established a group called SITE (Sculpture in the Environment) as a way of exploring new concepts relating to the urban visual environment (see, for instance, the ink and charcoal drawing Highrise of Homes, Project, Exterior Perspective 1981, Museum of Modern Art, New York). Wines’s proposals for environmental art pieces for hypothetical landscape sites, designed in steel and concrete as well as glass, continued his move towards breaking down the traditional distinctions between painting, sculpture and architecture.

Further reading
James Wines: Recent Sculptures, 1963–66, exhibition catalogue, Charles A. Dana Creative Arts Center, Hamilton 1966.
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery’s Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, London 1981, pp.763–4, reproduced p.763.
James Wines, Site, New York 1989.

Bryony Bery
November 2016

Supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

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Catalogue entry

James Wines born 1932

T00760 Homage to Léger 1965

Not inscribed
Iron and polychromed cement, 18 1/2 x 24 x 22 1/2 (47 x 61 x 57), on steel base, 1/2 x 18 x 22 (1.5 x 46 x 55.5)
Presented by Mr and Mrs H.J. Heinz II through the American Federation of Arts 1965
Prov: Mr and Mrs H.J. Heinz II, New York and London (purchased from the artist through the Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, New York)

The artist wrote (17 November 1965): 'The sculpture is one of a series of recent works created very much along architectural lines utilizing this combination of exposed steel and reinforced concrete. With the exception of Leger and Mondrian my major influences come from architects such as Corbusier, Wright, Kahn. I was somewhat tired of open work sculpture of the welded variety and decided to incorporate the advantages of both open graphic line in steel and the dense volumes of cement. Of course I was influenced largely by structural techniques peculiar to building construction - first the frame and the in-filling of reinforced concrete defining light, shadow, mass. Color is used for emotional emphasis and destruction of certain spaces and surfaces rather than for any painterly interaction.

'The title Homage to Leger was given after the completion of the work as I feel a great debt to this master. Its first title was Disc and One Quarter.

'All of the iron work is either forged by me or utilizes found objects. I often use discard scrap; but do not consider my work much related to so-called "junk sculpture". Found parts that interest me usually have some image impact and, I hope, free my rather strongly geometric sculpture from a strict formalism.'

He later added in a statement of 1966 printed in the catalogue of his exhibition at the Charles A. Dana Creative Arts Center, Colgate University, Hamilton, NY in September-October 1966:

'My colored sculptures are based on a Leger premise dividing areas with black line to shift dimension and weight. In my work the black lines become the bands and forms of steel which read both graphically and as three dimensional shape. This locking in of color differs from the flat painted surface. Light, shadow, reflection on the angles and directions of planes all serve to place color in a constantly changing state. My first works used color only as emphasis or to push forward or soften a volume in some desired relationship. Now the whole complex area of color interaction is beginning to concern me.'

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.763-4, reproduced p.763


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