May 2002 Vol.21 No.4
A publication of the International Sculpture Center
Stephen De Staebler's
by Peter Selz
The fractured human figure has been the subject of Stephen De Staebler's sculpture for many years. In a 1998 exhibition at the Franklin Parrasch Gallery in New York he reduced this image to only the human leg. Now, in his new work, those disembodied legs-fragile but immutable-have become larger, nearly six feet in height, and stand as witnesses to human endurance. They fuse the tangible corporeality of clay with a sense of the metaphysical.
Altar to a Leg,
55.5 x 14 x 31 in.
Ever since Auguste Rodin, evoking the damaged sculpture of antiquity, presented his partial, yet muscular and erotic figures, the fractured human form has been endemic to modern sculpture. The human torso was a dominant theme in the work of artists as diverse as Maillol and Brancusi, Henry Moore and Antoine Pevsner. Giacometti pared the standing woman and the striding man to the bare essentials of existence. But only in the "Abakans," the poignant headless figures by Magdalena Abakanowicz, and in De Staebler's sculpted images does the fragmented figure assume a symbolic function of human incompleteness and yearning for wholeness. De Staebler's large-scale legs signify this predicament for an artist who faces the human condition-both its vulnerability and its tenacity. His work recalls the ancient effigies of the Sumerians and the Egyptians. At the same time, it is painfully contemporary. While there is a timeless quality in De Staebler's work, these severed limbs remind us of our recently awakened sense of vulnerability.
The fractured human figure in De Staebler's work may be related to the work of his principal teacher, the late Peter Voulkos, who broke ceramic vessels into clay sculptures. De Staebler, after studying theology at Princeton, went to Berkeley where teachers such as Voulkos, Harold Paris, and Jacques Schnier created a stimulating atmosphere for the apprentice sculptor. At the start of his career in the 1960s and early '70s, De Staebler made undulating horizontal sculptures that appear to be landscapes. Just as we often anthropomorphize ridges and mountains, so these works allude to the curvature of the human body. The concept of the intimate relationship between the human and the earth is an essential element of his work. . .