WignallLogo Wignall Museum/Gallery
Chaffey College
5885 Haven Avenue
Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91737-3002


By Suvan Geer

"The desert is an ocean with it's life underground, and the perfect disguise above."
Song: "Horse with no Name"
Recorded by America
Written by Dewey Bunnell

Strange and contradictory as it seems, Pat Warner's sculptures are about water. It is the treasured resource metaphorically contained by the empty structure she builds and the unseen downpour celebrated by their smooth dryness. Yet behind all the poetic art allusions to what is unseen is the radical pragmatism of a farmer who simply enjoys well constructed, sturdy water towers and irrigation ditches that stand between survival and the threat of drought.

Raised in a southeastern Pennsylvania Mennonite community, Warner was immersed from an early age in an agrarian community that revered hard work, simplicity, directness of communication and straightforward problem solving. Trained as a painter at the Houston Museum's School of Fine Art, Warner came late to making sculpture. Yet it was the hands-on enjoyment of building wood supports that eventually led her completely into three dimensions. There she rekindled childhood memories of building houses and forts from tree-slash her father had cut around the farm.

Warner's work no longer deals exclusively with architecture or dwellings. Early in her art-making career she had spent time in remote archaeological sites and had come to appreciate their weathered architectural forms for the way they survived, and summed up, time. Yet even in their dissolution the buildings still contained remnants of the lives that had formed them. That covert life force became the subject of her structures.

Small Earth Wheel Water can be thought of as liquid life. But for Warner that life is approached by noting its absence. Her pieces that could easily contain, control and hold water are notably empty. Other pieces resemble dry, water-smoothed rocks, and eroded constructions for whom rain is only a memory. Yet the quality of emptiness or erosion is an eloquent testament to the value and power of the element. By giving us containers without contents, and rain polished surfaces, Warner allows water to become an allusion. And, as an absent element it becomes a potent metaphor for the power of time and elusiveness of sustaining nourishment.

Because this metaphor touches not only natural but also human endeavors Warner's sculptures usually manage to suggest both natural and man made forms simultaneously. Her early "Source" series, based on the natural sandstone storage wells used in the Yucatan, have an eery inhuman animation. It's as if the rounded hollows are sprouting roots in order to blindly dig into the earth in search of long vanished water. Many of her stacked and burnt landscape-like "Expeditions" pieces also suggest cross-sections of abandoned wells or cliffs containing primitive granaries.

In Warner's latest "Earth Wheel" series, man made and natural references actively cross pollinate. Overtly the forms recall derelict mine shafts or well heads. Yet the reinforcement timber, worn smooth by its years in the wind and rain, has spontaneously sprouted as if attempting to hide the mine opening and telltale stone trailings. Gradually the shaft is being covered, reabsorbed by the earth like a healing wound. Water, the necessary stimulus to any growth, is evoked as the unseen, rejuvenating source running underground.

These subtle but intriguingly complex concepts form the underlying strength of Pat Warner's sculpture. Where her pieces would be lauded simply for their clean craft, the depth of their ideas and the unexpected ways the artist addresses abstracts such as continuance, nourishment, and decay, gives the work a richness that has staying power.