September 12, 2016
'Building three-dimensional objects appealed to me'
By Shari Sweeney
Seattle-based sculptor and metalsmith Kirk Lang is a 2002 graduate from CIA’s Jewelry + Metals department, and went on to earn his MFA from the University of Washington in Seattle.
Science and astronomy inform and inspire much of his work. He has two kinetic sculptures in the 2016 Bellevue Arts Museum Biennial, which opened Sept 2. He is working on commissioned pieces and also developing a new series of wearables for shows taking place in 2017. He made time recently to answer a few questions about his work.
Your web site describes you as a sculptor, metalsmith, jeweler, designer and amateur astronomer. Do you consider yourself more one than another?
Good question. At times I would consider myself more one than another, depending on whatever project I am currently working on. That said, each of those “hats” plays an equal and essential role in what I make. In terms of medium, I certainly have a fondness for working in metal — it’s in almost every object I create.
When you attended the Cleveland Institute of Art, did you have a clear idea which direction your art would take?
I can’t say I was certain which direction I would go, but I did jewelry and metalworking in high school. I chose CIA specifically because [it offers] Jewelry and Metals as a major, which other colleges I looked at did not.
Once I arrived at CIA, the foundation courses really played a role in my development as an artist — particularly design. Building three-dimensional objects and problem solving were two things that appealed to me, which is why I think I was drawn to design.
Tell me about the process of conceiving and creating a piece of kinetic sculpture, and how you know it’s finished and can have, as you’ve said, a "life of its own.”
Typically an idea pops into my head, usually while reading or researching information related to astronomy or science. This actually happens quite frequently, but I don’t act on ideas as they come to me. I wait to see if the idea remains relevant for a period of time. As time progresses, I slowly begin to lose interest in many ideas. What is left then are ideas I can’t stop thinking about — those are the ones I am motivated to create.
I can think about the design of the objects I want to make as much as I want, but it always results in something different once it exists in physical space. I used to think about pieces and how they would move in space until I felt I solved every little nuance. Now, I consciously choose not to do this. If every single detail has been analyzed and thought out before an object is constructed, it leaves very little room for improvisation, playfulness and evolution within the piece, all of which contribute to its personality.
Tell me about your jewelry design.
I look at making and designing jewelry as the counterpoint to the kinetic sculptural pieces I create. When I want to take a break from thinking about the very involved components that compose some of the mechanical pieces I make, I usually shift gears (no pun intended) and focus on designing or constructing jewelry. What I love about jewelry is [its] scale and relative immediacy. . . . A sculpture can take me months to develop, whereas I can design and make a ring from raw materials in a single work day.
You are so active as a teacher as well as creator. What is it you enjoy most about teaching?
Sharing. If I know or have learned something over the years that could help benefit someone else in their own artistic development, I am happy to do so. As information has been passed onto me, I would like to pass it on to others. The more that artists are able to learn how to make the work they want to make, the better it becomes. Ultimately, that is what art is all about for me: Making and seeing compelling work.
What qualities or attributes do you think would be helpful to one who wants to become a professional artist?
At the risk of sounding trite, having a strong work ethic is key. Be professional. Meet your deadlines. Be courteous and consistent in your interactions with others. Get out and meet people in whatever way you are comfortable. If that means volunteering for various organizations or simply going to art openings, do it. It is important because people will begin to know who you are and what you do. They also learn about your personal and professional character. Apply to things. You are going to fail as much as you succeed, so it is important to understand that [failure] is just part of being an artist. Most importantly, be yourself, have fun and don’t take yourself too seriously — except about getting yourself in the studio and making work.
I’m a young artist fascinated by metalwork but am not sure in which direction I’d like to go. What advice would you give me?
My advice would be try to understand what draws you to metals as a medium. Learn who you are and how you work. For instance, if you are a very focused and technically minded individual, you might want to consider exploring very involved and precise processes such as stone setting, engraving or machining. If you like color, you may want to explore anodizing, powder coating or enameling on metal. If fabricating from raw metal directly is appealing, blacksmithing, forging or constructing hollowware might be the way to go.
If getting your ideas out quickly and efficiently is important, you may want look into digital processes such as CAD/CAM. The collective range of metalworking processes and techniques is immense, which is why it is such an exciting medium to explore.
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