Millvale gallery showcases artist's development over decades
By Kurt Shaw
Published: Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
A well-known and well-respected local artist, the late David A. Ludwig (1946–2011) was a consummate craftsman, as evidenced by more than 70 meticulously crafted works on display at Panza Gallery in Millvale in the exhibit “David A. Ludwig: Structures.”
A mini-retrospective of sorts, the pieces on display are from the 1970s through 2010 and represent the evolution of Ludwig's working style as well as his insistence on craftsmanship in all that he did, says Barbara Jones, Ludwig's long-time partner and chief curator at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art.
“The show speaks to David's development as an artist and the continuity of his vision,” Jones says. “His work was ever-evolving, often in subtle shifts, but always in one direction — to redefine the picture plane.”
At first glance, Ludwig's colorful, abstract sculptures appear minimal in means. But closer observation reveals the complexity of each structure.
For example, from a distance, the large dark-purple square on the wall that is the piece “Structure 9910” (2004) looks simple enough, but get closer, and you will realize it is a square imploding inward, in effect, eroding from the grid on which it is based.
That's not without good reason. Ludwig loved grids. A methodical man, the grid was critical to the final form his work would take.
Beginning methodically with a three-dimensional grid system that he designed for these pieces, Ludwig made hundreds of black-and-white drawings to examine all the possible variations and permutations of a particular form.
Selecting from these concept development drawings, he built perhaps 20, 2-inch maquettes, each painted and finished as if it were a final piece.
In the next step of the process, the form grew to an 18-inch square, a half-dozen of which were used to develop one or more of the final 5-foot-square pieces on display in this exhibit.
Smaller, 18-inch pieces, such as “Structure 2215” (1988), were usually created in a series. They are much more intimate in scale, seen as completed works in themselves and exhibited that way, but they remain an important part of the evolutionary process.
In this way, controlled completely, the artist set up a dialogue between form, light, color and texture from the very beginning.
Born in Terre Haute, Ind., Ludwig received a fine-arts degree from Indiana State University and his master of fine arts from Tyler School of Art degree at Temple University, Philadelphia, before working as a prototype designer for Hoosier Fiberglass Industries in Terre Haute.
After a stint as an industrial designer and model maker, he became a partner and chief technical designer for Exhibits Associates in Pittsburgh with James O. Loney — an independent contractor and design consultant. For six years preceding his death, Ludwig was an instructor of drawing, 2-D and 3-D design at St. Vincent College, Latrobe, and the Westmoreland County Community College in Youngwood.
As an artist, Ludwig began his career as a painter and slowly evolved from two-dimensional color-field paintings on canvas to three-dimensional wall reliefs or structures constructed of plywood. His early work as a model builder had a major impact on his working method as well as on the direction his work would take.
“David's love of industry led him very early to define his three-dimensional paintings as ‘structures,' generically titled so as not to reveal specific sources or define literal reference,” Jones says.
And yet, despite such an analytical approach, Jones says Ludwig's work is “all about transformation,” and that color is key to translating the emotional content of this work.
The blue piece “Structure 2030: Shifting Planes, Bar and Roll Set” and the teal “Structure 2027: Shifting Planes, Bar and Roll Set” (both 1979) show this.
While form and light provide the basis for the paintings to be seen, it is the interplay of the color, light, shadow and movement of each piece that is unique. This interplay also sets up a dichotomy of opposites: hard verses soft; light verses dark; slow verses fast.
Jones says that at the time of his death, Ludwig's work had taken on a more playful quality as he investigated how found objects could be transformed when attached to his geometric structures.
Later works, like “Ping Pong” (2010), which incorporates ping-pong balls into the structure, reveal this, but again in Ludwig's cool, inimitable style.
“Even though David has been gone now for nearly three years, my hope is that he lives on through his work,” Jones says. “My goal is to get it out there to be seen by as many people as possible.”
Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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