in conversation with Ken Kelleher
“Sculpture is an inquiry into the deep mysterious nature of things.”
How did you first get interested in art and begin making sculpture?
“Remind us to wake up and see what’s around us. We’re not just all in a giant factory on a conveyor belt.”
I originally went to architecture school and loved it but I desired to get into making things with my hands more so I transferred to art school. Art school was really different and it took me a couple of years to find my niche. I really did well with printmaking and enjoyed working with video but when I ended up in the fabrication studio welding pieces, I basically would never leave; I typically closed the shop every night at midnight and became consumed with it. My main inspirations at the time were David Smith, Anthony Caro and Mark Di Suvero. For my senior show, my pieces ended up to be very large in scale. There has been a big wind storm that winter that knocked down a lot of trees so I ended up having a great source of free material. I combined large dynamic steel elements and forms with large primitive, roughly cut chunks of wood. One piece I had had a split 25 ft railway timber in it. I created a steel connector at its base with bolts and bolted it to a very large three-legged base = the piece felt like it was soaring. I had another one that had a giant semi carved tree stump at its peak that I attached like a giant diamond to its base. I loved the idea of having modular elements I could construct in place. That being said, after my senior show the school passed new rules around how large sculptures could be made at the fab studio as they were worried about insurance. That was Alfred University in NY - I loved it.
How did you start to work in 3D?
Four years ago my wife and I bought a 7-acre farm in New Hampshire, with several outbuildings, a couple barns and a giant metal work building with a concrete floor - which I immediately turned into my studio space. Get out there as much as possible and work on welded pieces, carving and different experiments with materials. A year ago is when the digital side of me and the art side came together into the 3D work you see now. I had tried to teach myself 3D on several occasions but always ended up frustrated, as the programs are very different than typical design programs. A friend of mine, Justin Puda, who is an amazing 3D and motion designer, pitched in and offered to start giving me some lessons. It helped me learn way faster, and soon I became addicted. Literally making about a piece a day - or at least 3 a week. The new format allowed me to quickly experiment on every front.
Your works are engaging in consciousness and imaginations.
Absolutely. I think is way too easy to have only the world we live, all about the practical, profit and the mundane. Someone once said that their art was an escape from the mundane. I’m all for that. We are here in the world for a short time, on a planet which is basically a rock floating in space in the middle of a giant universe. We have limited time here and I want to make the best of it. Imagination is meant to be engaged. I want my work to provoke people in that way - remind us to wake up and see what’s around us. We’re not just all in a giant factory on a conveyor belt.
Do you also work with VR and AR?
Nike reached out to me about a possible project a couple months ago that involved deploying massive AR sculptures on sites throughout Santiago Chile. The directors of the project loved my work but new people came in so my part wasn’t done, however it got me connected with a friend of a friend who does AR work and we started experimenting together. Because my work is created in 3D there’s a lot of possibilities of how to display it, or make it, including virtual, like AR or projected or inflated, or permanent.
What is the next project you will work on?
I pinch myself because after only a year into this new adventure/career I have multiple projects going. I have 2 new 6m sculptures in the design phase for a private new estate in Indonesia. I’m working on a piece for a roundabout in Portugal. I have pieces proposed for several sites in the middle east including an airport (multiple pieces), a lobby and a 5-star hotel. Having conversations daily with new collectors and curators. It’s very exciting.
Your works are engaging in consciousness and imaginations.
Absolutely. I think is way too easy to have the world we live, all about the practical, profit and the mundane. Someone once said that their art was an escape from the mundane. I’m all for that. We are here in the world for a short time, on a planet which is basically a rock floating in space in the middle of a giant universe. We have limited time here and I want to make the best of it. Imagination is meant to be engaged. I want my work to provoke people in that way - remind us to wake up and see what’s around us. We are not just all in a giant factory on a conveyor belt.
Can you talk about this choice and how are you approaching and thinking about the process?
Sculpture for me is an inquiry into the deep mysterious nature of things. Another artist once said, 'Sculpture is a journey of curiosity made visible’ - which I agree with. I like the idea of taking basic, elemental shapes and inflating them, altering them, stacking and shaping them. Exploring many ideas at once. Working digitally helps me explore many pieces, combinations of materials, placement of pieces, scale, series of pieces and variations in ways that weren’t available say 5-10 years ago. I can iterate numerous pieces without leaving my desk, and without the prior investment of material, time and energy it would take to sculpt each one of these pieces for real in every instance. Going about it in the old way I may be able to produce 50 to 60 pieces in my life or less. With this method, I can accelerate my production one thousand-fold, produce pieces after they are commissioned for people who really like them and want to collect them, and have a catalogue that has much more work in it that I have created. In addition, the acceleration of the explorations I am able to accomplish is extremely satisfying.
Why do you think art in public space is important and what does it mean for you?
I think art has the potential to humanise our surroundings, to remind us of our truer, deeper selves, and put us in touch with a sense of play, participation, celebration and our hearts.
“Someone once said that their art was an escape from the mundane. I’m all for that.”
Ken Kelleher is an American sculptor. He studied art at Alfred University under sculptors Glenn Zweygardt and William Parry. After college, he worked at Hudson Studio, Fine Art Foundry in Niverville, NY where he did finishing work on cast bronze pieces by William Tucker and Anthony Caro, as well as other artists. Hudson Studio was in a shared space at the time with sculptor Jon Isherwood and is in close proximity to Triangle Workshop. Before becoming a Creative Director in Advertising he produced several series of large abstract sculptures, some of which were sold into private collections. Now twenty years later, Ken has returned to having a full-time studio practice. He lives and works with his wife of 25 years at Rehoboth in NH.