The Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins developed the term INSCAPE to describe the exclusive qualities that contribute to the essence of an object. Inscapes appear often in nature, but they require a keen artistic eye to recognize. If five similar stones are presented side by side, it is the inscape of each that distinguishes it apart from the others. These subtle differences can often go unnoticed, and Hopkins even declares that it is only artists [whether they be poets, painters, etc.] who are able to identify this hidden element, through a process he labels INSTRESS. By this dictum, the artist’s responsibility is to draw our attention to these small individualities, to reveal these inscapes that are present in and around us.
Each sculpture by Ted Prescott declares a sense of self-sufficiency. The forms given life by Prescott can appear at times to be the products of a cadre of sculptors; with both figurative and abstract works fabricated in steel, marble or wood, consisting of hand crafted elements as well as found objects. A superiority of approaches is not declared, with meticulous craft prized as highly as the conceptual or theoretical. The object itself almost resists being grouped into a series, and instead each transforms into an individual treatise on the interplay of form, materials, and space. Since Prescott also devotes such a large amount of time to writing about art, we are left with the assumption that these sculptures are investigations in a visual language that is at times foreign to the arts of writing and speaking.
This personal investigation is shared with us as it steps out into our viewing space. In this sense, a work like RIME becomes a shared meditation on organic decomposition. A rime is a trail of frost or ice that forms naturally behind an object due to an exposure to wind and the passage of time. A vertical manifestation of this event is painstakingly carved in Carrara marble to reveal the fragility and lyrical quality of the serpentine form. The carving process itself displays a love of materials inspired by artists like Isamu Noguchi or Martin Puryear, but Prescott also manages to create work in a strong conceptual vein through the simple act of selection.
THE GOOD THE TRUE AND THE BEAUTIFUL presents this simple act of choice. Stones lifted from the Wild Ammonoosuc River in New Hampshire are re-located to a gallery setting, but not before undergoing a complex “sputtering target” process, which coats them in silver. Each of the three stones reveals its inscape, its individual beauty that sets it apart. The artist has chosen to display the evidence of centuries at the floor of a river with reverent honesty.
Recent works by Prescott in apple wood seem to reach for a synthesis of these two approaches. In both STRAIGHT LINE TO HEAVEN and TOUCHING EARTH the artist presents a thin branch form coated in a black polyurethane truck bed liner. Something fragile and fleeting is made permanent, but upon closer inspection the presence of bolts divulges the reality that a large assortment of apple trees has been joined. Both works record a “drawing” of sorts, as they delicately display the hand of the artist as branches are slowly interchanged over months of time. The encompassing black polyurethane presents a burnt and wounded object despite its new indestructible nature. The uniform value also allows a contemplation of its recently created inscape, a new unique contour given life by the artist.
The composer John Cage told a story of how he noticed the aesthetic beauty of the sidewalk as if for the first time upon leaving an exhibit of drawings by the artist Mark Tobey. Many of us would agree that this revelation is perhaps one of the highest aspirations of art: to permanently alter the way we perceive the world around us, to recognize beauty where we had not before. The refreshing aspect of Prescott’s sculpture is that he allows us to arrive at this realization of an object’s inscape, this moment of instress, on our own terms. A realization may occur in the gallery as you contemplate the nature of a material like marble, bronze, or even honey. Or this moment may arrive weeks later, as you notice the specific curve of an old oak tree, or notice the inscape of a branch bending under the stress of a steady breeze.