John Chamberlain was an American sculptor who trained in Chicago. After initially working with iron pipes, Chamberlain started to explore the possibilities of twisted metal sheets. In the late 1950s, he began making assemblages out of scrap metal obtained from wrecked automobiles and, through this, discovered his own, distinctive style. The movement, force, spontaneity, energy and chance they suggested were similar to that of action painting and Abstract Expressionism. Although the colours and the abstract formal qualities of the salvaged metal were paramount to Chamberlain, rather than any connotations related to consumerism and society, his fundamental sculptural work was associated with Pop Art. At the same time, his use of standardised, manufactured products led to his association with Minimalism. Later, he experimented with fibreglass, Perspex and folded and crumpled paper and aluminium foil, and also made soft sculptures in urethane foam. In his later sculptures, Chamberlain started to remove the original paint by sandblasting the metal and, on occasion, he added paint to the metal himself. The ‘junk’ aesthetic – which for Chamberlain never had psychological or sociological implications – made way for horizontal, vertical and diagonal compositions that dealt with rhythm, space and volume. John Chamberlain also made films and videos of which The Secret Life of Hernando Cortez (1968), filmed in Mexico with Warhol regulars Taylor Mead and Ultra Violet, became a cult art classic. In the last decade of his career he also produced large-format photographs.
John Chamberlain was the subject of a major retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in 2012: John Chamberlain: Choices (his first retrospective at the museum was held in 1971).
John Chamberlain was born in Rochester, Indianapolis, USA, in 1927. He died in New York in 2011.
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