For the first two weeks of October, I lived outside in a small pod resembling a human BBQ in the backyard of a California desert based artist while doing research for a book project about deserts of the American West.
I spent my days driving long distances between all the desert towns surrounding Joshua Tree, California, and I had the opportunity to explore a part of the world that many of my fellow Los Angelenos only visit during music festival season, during which time they don desert costumes, usually appropriating native and gypsy culture to some degree.
For some twenty-five years, Charles LeDray has been surprising and delighting, and sometimes mystifying, the audience for contemporary art. Now fifty-six, LeDray is a kind of realist sculptor whose pieces—in part because his subjects are familiar but not what we would expect in a gallery setting, and in equal measure because he works with such small, essentially miniaturist sizes—have the power of making almost every object he handles seem new to our eyes.
When his art was getting underway, in the late 1980s, he altered the idea we generally have of stuffed animals. Using bears mostly, and sometimes designing them with their limbs askew or separated from their trunks, he gave them the distilled presence of purist, abstract sculpture, and this somehow made their plight seem as much inward and psychological as it was physical. Going on to work as a potter, he has exhibited large vertical glass display cases where on every glass shelf we see scores of neatly placed bowls, pots, jugs, and so on, each about an inch high and each, unbelievably, freshly designed. And as a carver, LeDray has, strangely, used human bone to create phenomenally delicate pieces of household furniture, or buttons of every possible description, or a sheath of wheat.
There are two things that are wonderful about this moment. The first is the reminder that Berger is as interested as ever in ways of seeing; that he still has the ability to give himself the slip, to turn perception into an out-of-body experience. And second, it is characteristic that he is keen to champion the young artist who painted his granddaughter. “Fetch me a piece of card from that side table,” he says. He writes in his not-quite-steady, attractively looping hand: Jules Linglin. “He is going to be very well known one day,” he declares, handing the card back to me.