Throughout a career that began in the 1960s, American sculptor Joel Shapiro has defined a unique style of working in wood and bronze, creating physically energetic and emotionally powerful sculptures that remarkably succeed in bridging figurative and abstract approaches to sculptural work. His freestanding, large-scale figures seem uncannily lifelike, though never relinquishing their figurative quality or abstract form. Some of his sculptures seem to dare or defy gravity while others, conversely, seem to succumb to it. The dynamic tension between the figurative and the abstract in Shapiro’s work is one of its defining features, giving the forms a kinetic energy and causing the elements making up the “arms” and “legs” to pull toward the center of the sculptural mass, or be on the verge of flying away from it.
Shapiro is sometimes associated with the Post-Minimalist movement that developed in the later part of the 1960s and into the 1970s, a diversity of artists and strategies that was in response to Minimalism, and sought a different type of engagement with the subject matter in art. Shapiro may be seen as a link between the purer forms of Minimalism and the art of the 1980s that strives to make content an explicit part of its form and meaning. He explores subject matter and emotion, while also retaining an interest in abstraction. Shapiro has been influenced and inspired by a wide range of artists, among them 19th and early 20th century figures such as Rodin and Degas, as well as his contemporaries. The result of these influences for him has wrought a powerful and sustained exploration of sculptural methods and possibilities.