Findings #2: Charles Fahlen: One Nebulous Pig

I am haunted by a strange pig. Rather, a pig print. When looking through the work in the studio of the late sculptor Charles Fahlen (1939-2010), I pulled out a number his printmaking experiments from the 1960s. The pig challenged me.

Charles Fahlen. Pig, 1960s. Print. Estate of Charles Fahlen

Charles Fahlen. Pig, 1960s. Print. Estate of Charles Fahlen

The image undeniably refers to the ubiquitous pork-butchering diagram. The contoured, flat profile is unmistakable. Yet, Fahlen pig is smudgy and nebulous, floating on the very large sheet of paper. It is grounded by the purple symbol, as if stamped with a seal. Does the symbol stand for something or is it simply a graphic element that pins the pig to the page, reminding us of flatness? 

Pork Butchering Diagram. St. John Restaurant, London

Pork Butchering Diagram. St. John Restaurant, London

Nöelle, Fahlen’s widow, keeps the airy studio in Gurneville, CA meticulously organized. There is serenity and clarity in the entire setting: the house, the cottage studio, the garden nestled among the redwoods, not far from the Russian River. 

Fahlen taught sculpture at Moore College of Art in Philalphia, PA, for over thirty years before moving back to his native California. In the last decade of his career he was mostly known for wall-hanging sculptures, created of multi-layered grids, made of variety of industrial materials. Several of these sculptures are installed in the Guerneville studio. Frenzy, for instance, is made of steel, copper, and aluminum, and arranged in a strict matrix of metallic strips.

Frenzy, ©2009. Steel, copper, aluminum, epoxy, and pigments. Estate of Charles Fahlen 

Frenzy, ©2009. Steel, copper, aluminum, epoxy, and pigments. Estate of Charles Fahlen 

In another sculpture, Flammox, a metallic matrix takes on organic form, protruding from the wall like a giant tit pulled forward by the weight of many nipples. The multicolored balls, resembling fish net weights, are handmade epoxy forms. On close examination, their pigmentation is cloudy and irregular, contrasting sharply with the strict geometry of the sculpture.

Flummox, ©2009. Brass, aluminum, copper, stainless steel, epoxy, and pigments. Estate of Charles Fahlen 

Flummox, ©2009. Brass, aluminum, copper, stainless steel, epoxy, and pigments. Estate of Charles Fahlen 

The epoxy balls of Flammox give me a clue to the mystery of Pig.  The whimsical, cloudy pigmentation on their surfaces resist the rigid organization of the supporting structure. Similarly, the nebulous pig wiggles away from the flat, mechanical surface of the print.