Art, like life, is a phenomenon of happenstance. The creative behind it is rarely planned. More often than not it is the destiny of the object waiting to be uncovered by the artist. For sculptor Ken Newman, happenstance and evolution have become common themes in his life and art.
“Every artist’s journey is different,” Ken said. “Thirty years ago I came into sculpting wood. I’m self-taught and in the beginning I sculpted primarily in a single block of raw or organic wood. The sculptures evolved to be a complete response to the material.”
Just as he would allow his sculptures to naturally emerge from the material, Ken also allowed his approach to naturally evolve. He soon began incorporating bronze sculpting into his work to express what he didn’t see in wood.
“Many ideas were coming forward and structurally didn’t lend themselves to a single block of wood,” he said. “I didn’t see the human figure in wood. I love drawing the figure so it was a natural extension to sculpt the figure. What evolved was, instead of an emotional response to the wood was more of a response to ideas and subject matter.”
The Influence of Happenstance
Beyond the materials, Ken said there have been a number of other influences that have shaped his work, and even created opportunity.
“Over the years what has evolved is the opportunities from the Celebration and the family of artists has had a great influence on my work and I’ve transitioned in to bronze sculpting both wildlife and figurative, and it continues to evolve over the years,” he said.
Including his latest piece, which challenged him in new ways. Though there was an initial element of happenstance with this untitled work, it was completely planned, which Ken said was a departure from the way he typically works.
“That movement of wood transcontinentally just fascinated me, and that was the happenstance that moves a sculpture from the back of your mind to fruition.”
While the happenstance was the movement of the two types of wood used in the piece – Eastern and Western black walnut from Tennessee and California – many components shaped the direction of this piece.
Shaping the story
The intricately carved piece – a grill from a semi – tells the story of the iconic American interstate system, the survival of the most adaptable, the entrepreneurial spirit of America, and the opportunity that exists here. This is seen in the bugs on the grill, which are reference map of the United States, the sparrows resting on the grill who feast on these bugs, and the shape of the grill, which Ken modeled after Emerald City from the “Wizard of Oz.” Though this piece is rife with history and parable, one word can sum it up – a word Ken also uses to describe the Celebration of Fine Art.
“When I think of the Celebration I think of one word, and that is opportunity,” Ken said.