Kalamazoo Gazette, Kalamazoo, Michigan, February 4, 1996  
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By Amy Sult

Artist turns steel pipes into energetic sculptures
   

 

  Al Lavergne's work in an exhibit called "Issues in Steel" at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts could be described loosely as abstract sculpture.
  While much artwork that falls under that description has a look that's rigid and lifeless, Lavergne's odd, lively pieces are possessed of physical and conceptual humor and energy.
  " I use steel plates and pipes as raw materials, but I re-form them rather than just assembling the different pieces," Lavergne explains in a printed interview that accompanies the exhibit, his first solo show in the Kalamazoo area. "In the re-forming process, I follow my intuition. The ideas come through this process."
  Lavergne, a Louisiana native and professor of art at Western Michigan University since 1990, has invented his own process of steel re-formation, which has led to a unique look and style. To ease the process of bending heavy pipe, he puts rough, uniform slices into the steel, creating an odd, segmented, exoskeletal look and revealing raw, silvery edges that enliven the surfaces and add to the overall feeling of movement and energy.
  Combining geometric shapes with variants on these unrecognizable biomorphic forms, Lavergne creates pieces with a strong physical presence, sometimes on such a large scale they begin to feel like environments as much as sculptures.
  One such piece is "Ceremony." A column of large, pipe-formed diamond shapes rises up like a snake or a totem pole from a sprawling base of writhing pipe work and jutting geometries.
  It's a great credit to Lavergne's skill as an artist and craftsman that he can create pieces that convey such vitality and energy while working in such a cumbersome medium.
  Unusual as it may seem for someone dealing with a substance as heavy and unforgiving as steel, Lavergne uses a spontaneous approach in the studio.
  " I want a piece to be defined as I do it, as opposed to working out of some preconceived and fixed idea," Lavergne states in the interview. "It's like jazz, where you start with a musical idea and see what you can make of it. The decisions you make will be judged by the problems that you create for yourself. Solutions come when you find a way to leap beyond the problems you've created to get back into the general flow of the piece itself."
  Like the best jazz performances, Lavergne's improvisations often include a sly, complex wittiness. One large piece in the exhibit looks like a cerebral steel cartoon about its title, "Infatuation." A sprawling, snake-like form, it zigzags, thrusts and coils around itself with knotty obsessiveness, a few of its surfaces smeared with red like a heated blush.
  Like a good jazz soloist, Lavergne is also loathe to repeat himself. In a departure from his larger, bio-morphic pieces, he also includes some smaller sculptures in "Issues In Steel." One of these works, called "Magnify," resembles a collapsed triangle, while "Trio" is a Zen-like study in balance and elegance created by three conjoined diamond forms.
  Large or small, the works in "Issues in Steel" are both challenging and entertaining for viewers.


In the foreground is a sprawling, coiling piece by Al Lavergne called "Infatuation."