Early in his career, Manuel Neri sought out new materials for his sculpture. Adopting plaster as his medium, he actively explored the human figure with all the gesture and emotion of the Bay Area Figurative painters. Plaster was perfect for recording the exact instant of the artist’s gouging, filing, and even his fingerprints as he pressed, hacked, and modeled the figure. To the final form, Neri added sweeping strokes of color, bringing the work one step closer in its identification with Bay Area Figuration.
Neri studied and associated with Frank Lobdell, Elmer Bischoff, David Park, Richard Diebenkorn, and Nathan Oliveira. Like them, he drew from the live model, making studies in pen and ink, and crayon and conté, a practice he continues today. Neri made the female form his ongoing concern and significantly, since 1972, his primary model has been one woman, Mary Julia Klimenko. The nearly hermaphroditic free-standing figure shown here is thus rare among Neri’s production in its virtual absence of applied color, possession of male genitalia, and the cord that binds one hand together in articulation of both psychological and material fragility. The spackling of plaster on the base makes the artist’s process immediately apparent.
During the 1970s, encouraged by critics and his own adventurous nature, the artist began to work with bronze and marble. Catun No. 2 is an example of Neri’s painterly treatment of bronze. Regardless of medium, his often life-size figures offer raw psychological states for our contemplation rather than idealized form.