“Silver’s sculpture is steeped in classical and religious myth. It is assembled, however, with a keen sense of modernist history, in particular, of the formal and psychological implications of Cubism and Surrealism. In Silver’s work, myth is not quiet and controllable, but something that grows and evolves on its own and obliges mere mortals to flail away in ‘its wake.”
-Michael Brenson, 1984, The New York Times
“Silver began to explore frontality, he was aware that since the Middle Ages, as mobility was becoming essential to the ethos of Western life, frontality had become essentially taboo. Strict frontality – that is to say frontality in which the sides of a head are symmetrical and the face is perpendicular to the ground – denies movement.
A Byzantine or Egyptian head holds movement in the face and eyes, which has the effect of freezing the viewer in place. While a naturalistic head created a sense that time unfolds and that the ability to move through time and space freely is the viewer’s right, frontality stops time. The aura of timelessness is essential to the religious power many frontal images have. But Silver knew there was more to frontality than this.
He was fascinated by meditations on Hellenistic and Jewish culture, and from Thorleif Boman’s “Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek,” he absorbed the idea that for Jews, the static is always active and dynamic. When he studied the frontal head, he saw that it was inherently ambiguous: if you outline a circle (the general shape of a head) and then draw a straight line down its center, you will see that the sides flip back and forth.
In his attempt to explore more deeply the reasons for the intense responses to frontality over the centuries, he studied the Rorscharch test, whose symmetricality around a central vertical line is essential to its ability to set the unconscious in motion. Silver came to believe that exploring frontality could lead him into repressed areas where well-springs of anxiety, sexuality, insight and creativity lie.
Far from denying movement, frontality could inspire images that did justice to the experience of contemporary movement by tapping emotional and psychological energies so raw and chaotic that they seemed uncontrollable.”
-Michael Brenson, Jonathan Silver: Heads, Sculpture Center Catalogue
“I met Jonathan in 1967 and was drawn to him immediately. He had this zest, this quickness, this force of personality, that let you know right away he was an original. He had a truly independent mind. What he said you were not going to hear anyplace else. I heard him say plenty of things that were outrageous, but in all the years I knew him I never heard him say anything tired, and I don’t think he was capable of saying anything banal….I cannot help but thinking of Meyer Schapiro, who was his teacher and advisor at Columbia, with whom the pattern may have been set of keeping company with leftwing intellectuals whom he profoundly respected but with whom he also profoundly disagreed. Particularly in the years immediately after I met him, Jonathan carried on endless discussions with Schapiro inside his head. He had the deepest respect for him but he did not like the way he felt politics informed Schapiro’s aesthetic judgements and he had bitter reservations about the mainstream tendency to define artististic quality according to politically progressive standards.
For a long time, Jonathan believed that because of its frontality, in other words because of its single, or primary, or authoritative point of view, his sculpture would be experienced by Schapiro and others as intrinsically undemocratic and therefore dismissed. His attempt during the last 10 years to make his sculpture fully three-dimensional and alive from multiple points of view without losing its commanding presence — was heroic and more complex emotionally and intellectually than I can understand now.“
-Michael Brenson, 1992, Eulogy for Jonathan Silver