[Artist: Peter Kelly]
Story by Tracy Nicholson
Photography by Dan Francis Photography
With an unusual collaboration between a printmaker and sculptor, The Talking Head exhibit at Plains Art Museum has finally made its debut. Although on display, it's also in progress. As an educational tool by resident sculptor, Peter Kelly, and on-site printmaker, Amanda Heidt, museum-goers are invited inside their three-year process. Visit the exhibit and you will likely find Kelly at the center of the room, hard at work. Despite the craft requiring intense concentration, he happily welcomes the opportunity to converse with visitors about the exhibit's process and purpose. With the exhibit open through May 11 and roughly 25 percent yet to complete, Plains Art Museum invites you to partake in a living exhibition which has transformed simple paper into elaborate 3-D personalities.
Meeting of the Minds
Nearly three years ago, Fargo sculptor and educator, Peter Kelly, proposed an ambitious idea that he wasn't sure how to execute. With access to the museum's on-site printmaking studio, Kelly recruited the expertise of print studio manager and educator, Amanda Heidt. Combining their talents, The Hannaher's Inc. Print Studio would soon provide the missing piece of the exhibit's puzzle, turning his 2-D idea into 3-D works of paper art.
To create his printed assemblage sculptures, the two would need to fuse the processes of lithography, screenprinting, vacuum forming and sculpting to emulate a new prototype for understanding and dissecting the structure of the human head. Through layering piece upon piece of printed matter, Kelly's dream to sculpt the character of skin would evolve into a tool for his sculpture students, as well as Heidt's printmaking students.
Kelly, a native Fargoan, moved back to the area 10-years ago and started teaching sculpture at the museum four years ago. He has spent the majority of his student and adult life in New York and California doing art installation and once acted as a student assistant to various artists who had also focused on the human body. Kelly has always had an interest in printmaking, but even more so the classic theme of the body and the idea that he could somehow find a way to emulate skin through sculpture and paper.
Pursuing Sculptural Print
Inspired by the new developments in medical imaging, technological advances began to spur Kelly's interest in 3-D sculptural printing. "3-D printing is a huge part of that explosion and simultaneously, printmaking is having the same kind of explosion in terms of people having access through most computer programs to doing a lot of the layout. They can solve a lot of problems in the process before they even come to a print studio," explained Kelly.
Although these advancements have been his muse, he still believes in the actual traditional output having a handmade sensibility. "I did try and work out some of my pattern-making on the computer, but I was also referencing my own face in relation to taking an actual measurement; not at all trying to make a self-portrait, but just to make a template or a generic enough skull form so I could then input the feeling and emotion - trying to interject that into the piece."
Structure & Skin
To determine the makeup of the structure and skin, Kelly decided to carry the same paper material all the way through to the box bases. "We printed in a couple of different ways; you can see on the wall that it's a kind of lithography technique, it's a new one, as opposed to stone lithography, where you're basically drawing with a wax crayon and stone. With this technique, you're drawing on these plates, heat setting them and then you ink them up. That gave me the information I needed on one side of the print. Then, we had printed, more of what I consider the skin and the color, which is actually a silkscreen," explained Kelly.
Detailing the nearly 40-hour craft of creating each head, Kelly explained the process of drawing out the paper pattern which guides him through the structure. These patterns pinpoint the areas needed for darts, solid cuts and perforated marks. "Darts are needed if you're going to pull the form in and create volume and texture - so my idea was that everything was going to be sort of generic life-size," said Kelly.
"First, I created a skull form with a lithographic plate. That has the information with the color; it has the idea of what I need to do to cut it out. The process created 40 different plates with 40 different prints coming off of each plate," said Kelly. The next step was cutting them out and starting the long process of assembly. Assembly involves three-dimensional forms which Kelly is accustomed to making in sculpture. The following steps involve dampening the paper, layering it over the form and vacuum forming each skull to compress it, allowing the paper to adhere to itself and not the form.
Heidt and Kelly used a traditional printmaking paper called BFK Rives and Japanese Mulberry paper, which comes in a variety of colors. To achieve the most realistic dimension, Heidt helped Kelly choose a grey with silkscreen adding in pastel flesh tones. "When we were mixing them up and printing them, they were almost all in this kind of sorbet meets balloon color; objectively speaking, they were not anything I was attracted to," said Kelly. "But, the fact that there's layering, and the grey is sort of a non-color, it lets some translucency and light through." The two used a Methylcellulose acid-free glue on the back of each to affix them to the structure.
"One of the things that I'm always saying to my students, in terms of sculpture, that if there's color, the viewer really perceives it as coming all the way through, as opposed to a painted surface imposed on it," explained Kelly.
"The assembly is kind of the seductive part; although they're all assembled the same way, there is just going to be a liveliness to them that's different - I think that really comes through."
"The idea was that there's a lot of radically different kind of effects, but as complex as the process has been, it is the same process for all of them," said Kelly. "There are different angles and tilts of the head that offer a different level of expression, but that's simply deciding that one of the cuts is going to be here, in terms of the structure, as opposed to here. When you're making things like this, you have the color and paper and both are really quite sensuous and responsive - meaning you don't have to do a lot to it; a simple or complex fold can give you a lot back."
"When they're all together, especially when they got moved out of the print studio, I think I realized that the completion of the piece involves always showing the process," said Kelly. "It's kind of meditative for me; I think there is a certain white magic that happens when you work on something like this and I can't say enough about Amanda and how wonderful she is to collaborate with."
"I do think about these as going into someone's home, but at the same time, I teach a sculpture class here and mostly I think of this exhibit as an educator," said Kelly. "As a thank you to Amanda, I'm hoping that if anyone ever wanted to purchase them, the proceeds would go to the print studio. It was such an involved process and she handled a lot of the heavy lifting, cutting and perforating."
"It's a beautiful project. When he came to me with this idea, it's something that I really believed in and how his mind was being artistic and creative with figuring out how he wanted to go about it," said Heidt. "Just to encourage that to its fullest is something that I love to do up here as the print studio manager; I revel in that creation exchange. It's just really exciting for me to see the project continue. Life happens with everybody, things go cold, but to consistently still come back to this and push through it is something that is really amazing. It is a pretty complex project, so it's been fun to see it come to life."
Interested in Classes?
Based in Hannaher's Inc. Print Studio on the third floor of the center, Heidt currently teaches youth to adult classes in both traditional and contemporary printmaking processes - lithography, intaglio, relief, screenprinting and monotypes. Classes typically run four weeks, eight weeks and also weekend burst workshops.
If you're interested in studying sculpture, Kelly offers classes through the museum on Tuesday mornings in the Katherine Kilbourne Burgum Center for Creativity.
For more information or to visit the exhibit, contact:
The Katherine Kilbourne Burgum Center for Creativity / Plains Art Museum
Midwest Nest loves the culture from the upper midwest, and we are excited to share stories from around the area.