VISUAL ARTS

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The Independent Culture
Stephen Cox's most recent sculptures are at Michael Hue-Williams, 21 Cork Street, London W1 (0171-434 1318) until 24 Jan 1997

It is 10 years since Stephen Cox's first fateful visit to India. He was invited there as the Britain's representative in the 1986 Trienniale and has never looked back.

Cox began sculpting in the 1960s in an essentially minimalist style, but through the 1970s a figurative element crept back into his work and by the time he visited India he had begun to successfully blend the two. Since then he has spent part of each year in Mahalipuram, a small town 30 miles down the coast from Madras, famed for its temple sculpture and centuries-old stone-carving traditions.

Cox's work is carefully poised between minimalism and figuration - a balance which allows a peculiar, but very effective mix of Eastern and Western moods. He uses black Indian granite, the material favoured for Hindu devotional sculptures, and assistants brought up on a diet of temple carving. The work isn't religious in any specific sense, yet Cox manages to make it spiritual without teetering into the dangerous realm of the mystic, a temptation that has ruined the work of so many Western artists who have found themselves drawn to the East. It's a fine line which Cox manages to tread with careful and increasing confidence.

Some of Cox's Indian sculptures are now on show in his first gallery exhibition in London for 10 years. The dominant form is oval: it is used either on a large scale to suggest a human torso, each with a single (usually sexual) organ; or on a smaller scale, in faces, each dominated by a a sensory feature: a nose, an eye, or an ear. He calls these Tanmatras - 50 of them covering one wall are entitled Throng - a manyfaced, yet weirdly faceless crowd. Overall, Cox's works make for an impressive and atmospheric exhibition.

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