At 40, Washington sculptor Leonard Cave has established a major reputation as a maker of giant, sprawling sculpture in wood -- rough-hewn, bolted logs and timbers of various types and textures, all powerfully carved, gouged, sliced and otherwise worked and combined into expressive forms that are distinctively his own.
But Cave is also a stone sculptor, and although he has exhibited small, abstract marble carvings over the years, he had never made them the central focus of his art. Four years ago, he decided to give them full attention (they are, after all, considerably easier to get into a home), and the dozen works in marble now at Marsha Mateyka Gallery are the result. These carvings make the point that in the hands of a gifted sculptor, any medium is likely to yield impressive results.
Larger and more imposing than earlier pieces, these marbles reflect Cave's innate ability to derive sensuous, flowing forms from a block of stone, but now with a sharper, more highly activated outline. They are no longer frontal and unremittingly abstract, and in the strongest works -- such as "Stone Center" or "Starswept" -- there is a new sense of figurative allusion and verticality that makes the stone appear at times to transcend its own weight. "Wings" -- though made from a solid chunk of Carrara marble -- nearly takes off into space, recalling at once the "Winged Victory of Samothrace" and the Futurist sculpture of Boccioni. "Stone Center" and "Starswept" are cut from laminated marbles of subtly varied color and texture, evincing the same desire for optimum variety in texture and color that Cave seeks -- and finds -- in wood.
The sharp, zooming forms of Futurism have had a major influence not only on "Wings," but on several other works in this show, resulting in sharp edges and repeated shadows that reinforce the sense of movement. But they also reinforce the sense of a basic esthetic problem, the same problem that haunts all traditionally carved abstractions today, given the context of current art.
Inevitably, such works look back to the unsurpassed art of Arp, Brancusi and Moore for their standards, rather than to the future. Which is not to say that these luscious surfaces and handsome forms are not beautiful; they are. It does suggest, however, that in the case of Cave, it is in constructed pieces made from wood that he makes his distinctive contribution. His show continues at 2012 R St. NW, through Dec. 15. Hours are 11 to 5 Wednesdays through Saturdays.