John Chamberlain's dynamic, vibrantly painted, often candy-colored objects made from crushed-metal car parts simultaneously combined the gestural vigor of Abstract Expressionism and the vernacular consumerism of Pop art. In the late 1960s, Chamberlain experimented with other unconventional yet significantly more malleable materials, such as urethane foam, synthetic polymers, and aluminum foil. When he returned to automotive parts and other steel components in the mid-1970s, his work was amplified by a new sense of inventiveness. While encouraging assistants to improvise on his elements with further cutting, crushing, torqueing, and crimping, he also elaborated his enameled surfaces with sprayed, stenciled, dribbled, graffitied, and airbrushed coats of color—which were jazzy, tropical, even raucously patterned.
The names of Chamberlain’s sculptures are often puzzling and unexpected, such as Flufft (1977), Coup d’Soup (1980), and Pigmeat’s E♭ Bluesong (1981). These humorous titles are usually composed from found words and expressions; some were even composed by randomly shuffling index cards. Chamberlain’s titles are deliberately open-ended and reflect a poetic sensibility that was developed while attending Black Mountain College, Asheville, North Carolina, in the mid-1950s, where the artist befriended many poets.
In 1967 Dia cofounder Heiner Friedrich presented one of Chamberlain’s first international solo exhibitions at his gallery in Munich. Friedrich continued to collect the artist’s work voraciously, amassing an unparalleled collection of Chamberlain’s sculptures and painting, which now belong to Dia Art Foundation.