Sculptor Ken Kelleher creates abstract forms, liberated from utilitarian value

STIR explores American sculptor Ken Kelleher's abstract artistic practice, along with his recent entry into the NFT and crypto world.

by Manu SharmaPublished on : Apr 08, 2022

“When utilitarian value is taken away from an object, what remains?” This is an interesting question posed by Ken Kelleher, who describes himself as an artist with a focus on sculpture, digital animation and furniture. While his background is in fine art and architecture, he has also worked in advertising and branding as a digital designer. He has been working with digital sculpture for the last five years, and explains his fascination to STIR, saying, “I decided to have a go at learning 3D after seeing some other large-scale installation sculpture projects and feeling very inspired. I had a farm with an outhouse that I turned into my sculpture studio, but being one person on my own, I couldn’t fabricate the things I was imagining. Once I learned 3D, and saw that I could make things at any scale and place them in many types of environments, similar to how an architect does it, I was hooked. I began designing and making pieces every day.” 

Still Life 003, 2021, NFT Rendering, Ken Kelleher | STIRworld
Still Life 003, 2021, NFT rendering Image: Courtesy of Ken Kelleher Sculpture

Kelleher explains that he was quite enamoured by formal steel sculptors such as David Smith and Anthony Caro during his time in art school. He also explored the works of sculptors from the New York School, along with abstract expressionists. His perspective on material expanded rapidly since then, and he tells STIR, “For the last 20 years or so after art school, I made my living as a digital designer as I wasn't able to set up a studio space to make sculpture until a few years ago. Since getting back into sculpting my influences have greatly expanded to be more informal, multi-material, inspired by the likes of Richard Deacon, Phyllida Barlow, Tony Cragg, as well as Franz West, Martin Puryear, Jay Kelly, Mel Kendrick Thomas Kiesewetter and Misha Kahn.” Kelleher enjoys fewer limitations with regards to materials, and remains open to exploring work in many forms and formats.

Twisty Darth, 2022, Rendering with Black Paint sculpture, Ken Kelleher | STIRworld
Twisty Darth, 2022, rendering with black paint sculpture Image: Courtesy of Ken Kelleher Sculpture

Kelleher explains, “Sculpture for me is an inquiry into the deep and mysterious nature of things.” He continues, reposing his question, saying “When utilitarian use is taken away from an object, or to be broader, a series of objects or forms, what remains? An 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, and then stacking and shaping them. Once I am done with one piece, I usually have ideas for several others. The amount of variety that can be produced by moving one or two shapes through space is amazing. I particularly enjoy taking three basic forms and uncovering all the possibilities of how they can be arranged. Then there’s material, which adds another layer of interpretation and process. The visual expression I try to achieve is one that is open to interpretation. In one piece, someone may see something playful, or whimsical. Another may be so uncanny as to make them feel strange. Think of these huge, non-utilitarian forms, set down in the midst of our busy world, which accelerates ever faster every year, towards who knows what end. The sculpture may very well get in your way. It may interrupt your path. Does it make you stop? Does it make you wonder?” The artist’s sculptural forms certainly support his efforts to advance discussions around how we interpret form and purpose: his works are complex and often inscrutable, but he has also created pieces that are disarmingly simple, and other works yet that fit somewhere in between. All of these come together as a rich body of craft to be engaged with and meditated upon.

The 3 MetaPiggies! Stinky, Blinky and Nod, 2022, Rendering for Mixed Media,Ken Kelleher | STIRworld
The 3 MetaPiggies! Stinky, Blinky and Nod, 2022, rendering for mixed media Image: Courtesy of Ken Kelleher Sculpture

Kelleher’s message is directed more towards artists, as opposed to his audience. He wants practitioners to remember that there are always many routes to tackling a question, and expands on this, saying “don’t let yourself get in your own way, but rather put imagination first and try to imagine without boundaries. It’s very easy to put boundaries on what you can do. I let the creative process of exploration guide me. My message is that you don’t have to be stuck doing the same thing over and over, and you don’t have to be classified in any particular way as an artist. Instead, let what you are imagining guide you, and allow yourself to be inspired each time you sit down to work. Who knows where your new ideas will lead you?” A deeply meaningful statement to be certain, no less because of the increasing risk of silo-fication today: artists are journeying deeper than ever before into specific facets of practice, and often forget to observe their own adjacencies or explore alternate perspectives.

01 min watch Inner Child, 2021, Four 3 Meter Sculpture, Ken Kelleher | Inner Child | Ken Kelleher | STIRworld
Inner Child, 2021, Four of three metre sculptures Video: Courtesy of Ken Kelleher Sculpture

More recently, the digital artist has become involved in the NFT/ crypto space. He explains that he had been largely ambivalent towards it until the past spring, which is when the famous Beeple sale happened. Kelleher was intrigued by the possibilities of the space, and promptly traded his Mac for a dual 3090 PC and started working on animations. He adds, “I enjoy NFTs, and am excited to see the extra revenue stream for artists. I am looking forward to seeing how it grows and develops over time.”

Sculptor Ken Kelleher | STIRworld
Sculptor Ken Kelleher Image: Ken Kelleher

Kelleher believes that there’s still a lot of hype around the first wave of NFT artists, and he definitely wants to see promoters and platforms work harder to develop and launch new talent, rather than just have all the platforms promoting the same small pool of artists at every event. This is an opinion many will echo, as practitioners from all over the world are trying to enter this new space and partake in the opportunities it presents. Kelleher remains optimistic, saying that he believes the NFT/ crypto art world is starting to move away from that, and new creatives - each bringing wildly varied and exciting works, are bound to show up on the scene sooner than later. One hopes that the artist will be proven right, and that the art world at large will be better off for it, with a new generation of better organised, financially stable practitioners further pushing the boundaries of their craft.

What do you think?

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