Monday, June 8, 2009

Lee Kelly ~ Arlie, in the Middle

Arlie our featured piece of the week here at Fifty Two Pieces was created in 1978, seventeen years after the 1961 piece introduced later in the week. Comparing those two pieces at the Portland Art Museum will be a great deal easier during the next few months. Arlie sits in the sculpture garden and the 1961 piece is just inside welcoming visitors to the PNCA at 100 show.

The 1961 piece is wildly organic, growing up from smaller sinewy parts. Looking at its flat two-dimensional representation, you can almost see an abstracted Ganesha. The paint Kelly applied to the metal enhances this organic imagery. In person, the piece seems to be breathing. Listen carefully and you can hear it inhaling and exhaling, perhaps a huge sigh to no longer be up on the fourth floor of the Hoffman Wing.

Stylistically, Kelly removed the added color and relied on the variations in the rust of the Corten steel when he created Arlie in 1978. Many think of this work as being influenced by abstract expressionism, think Anthony Caro, and minimalism, perhaps David Smith. For many visiting the sculpture garden, the very tall, over 12 feet, sculpture has an animalistic look. Even without knowing that the name of the sculpture is Arlie, people almost always think animal. Perhaps it's the eye to one side of that large planar form. Face, head and okay, there are those three legs attached. The rust of the Corten steel enhances the animal effect, giving the appearance of a smooth coat of red fur. For an interesting take on Arlie, visit PDL// Portland Art Museum Unauthorized Audio Tour. The link is to Arlie's segment and is something less than a three minute audio. It's great fun from Vital 5 Productions located in that city to the North, Seattle.

Thirty years later, Lee Kelly's work is now mostly in welded stainless steel. Those of us who visit the International Rose Test Garden here in Portland can see one of his early welded stainless creations, Water Sculpture. Created about the same time as Arlie, the stainless reflects the environment around it, picking up the colors and atmosphere of the people viewing it as well as in this case the trees and flowers of the rose garden. Here is another more recent stainless creation, Icarus Revisited, 2005.

Shown at the Elizabeth Leach Gallery, their website provides this description.
Icarus Revisited, Kelly’s new body of work, is an investigation of how our culture’s ancient myths have been recast through time, traveling from their place of origin to the new world. In the myth of Icarus, King Menos forbade Icarus, the Son of Daedalus of Crete to fly. He made two wings out of wax, but when he flew too close to the sun, the wax wings melted and he fell into the sea. Lee Kelly supplies a different ending where Icarus flew on to Kittyhawk and invented aeronautics.

This work is an account of attempted flight and the dangers of arrogance. It is a reminder that art is a residue of attempted flight and the result of great imaginings, and how artistic ideas flourish without the restrictions of time and boundaries.

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