Seymour Lipton, “Catacombs”

Seymour Lipton, “Catacombs”

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Seymour Lipton, Catacombs, 1968.

American, 1903-1986

In 1951 Seymour Lipton discovered the advantages of Monel metal, an industrial alloy available in strong thin sheets, which he heated and shaped into abstract forms. Using soldering irons and welding torches, the sculptor braised thin rods of nickel, silver, lead, and copper onto the shaped surfaces, simulating variegated textures, ranging from coarse to delicate. Midway through his career, Lipton began creating small, metal armatures as models for full-scale sculptures. Stating that “you can’t turn a drawing around,” Lipton fabricated three-dimensional sketches from thin sheets of metal, spot-braising joints with a small torch.

Compared to Pioneer, the sculpture Catacombs is more abstract and architectonic. Although there is no explicit narrative, the main forms consist of hollow and dark inner areas enclosed by sheet metal gleaming in the light. The three main vertical elements resemble totemic figures clustered together and holding up a smaller fourth form, perhaps a child or ceremonial offering. The grouping suggests a familial or religious ceremony, such as a baptism or burial.

The last phase of World War II—particularly the revelations of genocide in Nazi concentration camps and the nuclear devastation in Japan—prompted Lipton to address somber themes expressed in metaphoric terms. As with many of his works, Lipton chose a title that provokes speculation and interpretation. The term “catacombs” refers to any underground cemetery but is most often associated with the subterranean refuges and burial places of early Christians who hid from persecution by the Roman Empire. The three “figures,” each of which consist of a single, entirely hollow, concave form, found an environment in which to thrive. Viewers might deduce that Lipton meant to represent these physical bodies as temporary shells, a belief that is common to many religions.

  • <p>Seymour Lipton, Catacombs, 1968.  Photo by Ben Aqua.</p>
  • <p>Seymour Lipton, Catacombs, 1968.  Photo by Paul Bardagjy.</p>

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