Rising from the roof of the Orange County Museum of Art is a massive shimmering chimera, a reclining male nude whose face is an African mask. The body is done in the style of Classical sculpture, inspired by a popular pose showing Zeus bearing a cornucopia. The figure’s head draws from the highly stylized aesthetics of the Baule culture of the Ivory Coast — in this case, a double-faced mask, a symbol of duality.
If this sculpture by artist Sanford Biggers feels a bit like an illusion, that’s because it is. Seen from a distance, the contours of its body indicate depth, but the work is actually flat — a piece of aluminum supported by a scaffold. On its forward side, Biggers renders this deity in different tones of fluttering sequins crafted from stainless steel; on the other, where the scaffold’s supports come into view, he has painted a pattern of black and white octagons borrowed from a vintage quilt.
“Of many waters...,” as the piece is titled, brings together several important threads in Biggers’ work. There is his “Shimmer” series, which renders the silhouettes or shadows of figures in reflective materials such as glitter and sequins — depictions that turn the nebulous into powerful presence. In the “Codex” series he employs vintage quilts as canvases for paintings or uses them to create geometric, sculptural forms — works that feel like portals. And there’s the “Chimera” series, featuring Western-style figures, generally rendered in marble or bronze, with their faces obscured by African masks.