Transforming salvaged metal into a wonderful whirlwind of intersecting forms and contours, Naughty (Netsuke) is a bold abstraction of metal that is as complex as it is beautiful, and bears witness to the artist's important contribution to both aesthetic and theoretical aspects of mid-twentieth century Abstract Expressionism. When Chamberlain acquired en masse the contents and scraps from an abandoned Tonka Toy factory in 1981, he began a series of sculptures constructed from disassembled and repurposed toy trucks and cars. Unlike much of his later work, which tended to be very large, these sculptures were much more intimate. In its concentrated form, Naughty (Netsuke) still carries the same monumental force, weight, and density characteristic of Chamberlain’s work. The son of a saloon keeper, born and raised in the Midwest, Chamberlain brings overtones of vintage Americana to Naughty (Netsuke). And yet, the element of quaint whimsy complements the brazen, metallic power for which Chamberlain’s work is renowned. The vibrant composition leads the eye in and out of swirling loops, dense geometric masses, and deep shadows, while chipping paint in rustic red and sky blue invoke echoes of patriotism and the American dream. From every angle unexpected formal relationships and contrasting primary colours infuse the work with tension and vigour. Chamberlain’s raw emotion is channelled and interpreted in Naughty (Netsuke), as he harnesses energy to bend, twist, and torque the metal.
Naughty (Netsuke) points to Chamberlain’s predilection for synthesising antitheses, among them painting and sculpture, tradition and innovation, abstraction and figuration, and Abstract Expressionism and Minimal Art. Indeed, Chamberlain’s juggling of complex visual dialectics in his sculpture is the key to its depth and dimension. While his early metal constructions were influenced by David Smith’s works, the sculptures executed from the late 1950s onwards increasingly alluded to de Kooning’s Gesture or Action Painting. Intuitively in tune with the Abstract Expressionist, Chamberlain strove to command three-dimensional space just as de Kooning's painterly gestures commanded the canvas. ‘You have to go with the process. There’s no formula’, Chamberlain remarked, ‘I just run on intuition and use that as a general mediator among emotion and sexuality and drive…All of a sudden, at some point, there’s nothing else to do’ (J. Sylverster, ‘Auto/Bio: Conversations with John Chamberlain’, in John Chamberlain/New Sculpture, exh. cat., Pace Wildenstein, New York, 1994, p. 16).