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Ken Herrin’s sculptures de- and reconstructs familiar things
I was a hard sell for abstraction,” sculptor Ken Herrin admits. As a fine arts major whose work was classically inspired, he spent years sculpting figures in clay.
But he was also spending a lot of time working in construction and renovation, especially of old houses, and it was while renovating an old home in New York State that he surrendered to the lure of found objects.
“Old buildings yield up these incredible secrets,” he says. “Tearing buildings apart, deconstructing and then reconstructing…I made a transition from clay to wood.” Wood, that is, coupled with objects found in attics, basements, and sometimes simply by the side of the road.
“I’m the guy at the estate sale who wants to see the funky outbuildings,” he says. “I’ve now been hoarding for a long time.”
Herrin’s work is mostly created to hang on walls, encompassing an arrangement of found objects framed by some sort of wood. He approaches his sculpture, he says, “as a painter,” and sees it as occupying a world in-between two- and three-dimensional. He’s fascinated with the concept of trompe l’oeil (“trick of the eye”). “I see my work as a sort of inverse trompe l’oeil,” he says. “Rough objects in a controlled environment.”
He’s fully recognized how “absolutely difficult abstract art is to do well, and what a special way of looking at the world it is.” Using found objects in particular “is a double-edged sword. I like to put an object in a context that gets it as far away from what it was as possible,” Herrin says, but he knows he must acknowledge the connotations familiar objects have for some people. “A child’s shoe will always be a child’s shoe,” he says.
And while he loves having people tell him stories of what they see in his work, he jibs at the idea of using a piece to “make sense of the world. The objects are colors on my palette to me. How to edit, how to pare down, how to build up…that’s what interests me.”
He sometimes works in series, but they are not always constructed sequentially. “I often have a couple of pieces going at the same time. Something is going on in life that I am still working through. If I end up with a series, it’s because I’m still investigating that issue,” he explains.
Herrin’s peripatetic life has also had an influence on his work. A transplant to Chattanooga at the end of 2011, his youth was spent in Holland, England and later, the Northeastern US. He and his wife lived in New Orleans before moving to Eugene, Ore., where they spent 16 years. They knew virtually no one in Chattanooga before deciding to test the waters, arriving in an RV, shortly finding an old house in dire need of renovation and settling in. “I love the hospitality of the South and the city, and the tradition of telling stories,” he says.
The stories told by Herrin’s work could be described as “cheerfully creepy.” Not morbid in any sense, but slightly off-kilter, a little macabre, yet not taking those elements too seriously. “Making the sculpture that I do is how I get through life happily,” he says.
The artist showed at 4Bridges this year, where his work was noticed by the owners of the Graffiti gallery.
His sculptures will be featured in the lobby of the new show opening June 5 at the gallery, alongside “Fire and Steel: The Metal Sculpture of Turry Lindstrom” and the paintings of Sandra Paynter Washburn. On June 6, from 5 to 10 p.m., Graffiti will hold an open house celebrating the new exhibits in their space at 505 Cherokee Blvd. on the Northshore. hillcityart.com
For more information about Ken Herrin’s work, contact the artist at (541) 729-4297, or through his website, lostandfoundobjects.net