In Sunday’s Spotlight section I highlight a new show continuing through Jan. 28 by Amy Kohl at the Chris Sorensen Studio. The exhibition, called “Raw Connections,” features graphite drawings, found object assemblages, a bench and mobiles. Her most fascinating works are stone sculptures that use old Kansas state fence posts.
I caught up with Kohl for an email interview, portions of which I excerpt in my Spotlight column. Here’s the extended version.
Question: You’re a first-grade teacher. Which came first, teaching or making art?
I’ve been creating art since I was little. I studied art with an emphasis in painting at Binghamton University in New York and graduated in 1992 with a BA. After moving to Fresno and getting married, I decided to pursue a career in education, started teaching in 1994 earned a credential and finally a MA in Special Education from Fresno State in 1998. Art took a back seat to my career and family and we moved to Hanford then Bakersfield.
After having a son, getting divorced and moving back to Fresno in 2001, I became interested in making art to a larger extent, mainly painting and drawing. I began working at Fresno Unified in a variety of teaching positions, and am currently at Greenberg Elementary as a first-grade teacher. Being a mom to my awesome 13 year old son is my priority, making art and teaching are my passions.
How did you get involved with the Chris Sorensen Studio?
In October 2002, I walked into the studio while on a date. Chris invited my date and me to come down and “play” anytime we wanted. The next week we went, and I’ve been there as an active part of the studio and gallery since. I spend almost every Saturday morning welding, carving, or working on studio “stuff”, including setting up shows and moving Chris’ works.
In the early days, the studio was very open and the gallery was Chris’s art and collection. In May of 2003, I had my first “solo” show with about 10 pieces that I had produced. Chris began sharing the gallery and inviting groups to show. Since that, I ran the gallery for about a year and curated many group and themed shows. I’ve collaborated with Chris on several pieces and we’ve had shows together. Chris has invited me to be on TV interviews with him, hang his art, and “do what I want” at the studio. He’s become not only a mentor, but a dear friend.
Tell us about this latest show of yours. What does the title signify?
Paul Lindhard, a well-known sculptor from Ventura, mentor, and friend, helped me curate and hang the show. Included in this show are graphite drawings, found object assemblages, and large stone sculptures. I also created a bench and mobiles.
The title of the show, “Raw Connections,” was conceived while reflecting on the works that I was including in the exhibit. I examined the commonalities between the mediums and series that are incorporated. My graphite drawings are of forms that are touching and sharing space in a very connected way. The drawings are abstract, not evolved into familiar objects or figures. I presented them unframed as a conscious decision to allow viewers to see the texture of the paper and be closer to the forms. When working with metal, I found myself being drawn to the natural colors and finishes of raw and aged material, sometimes only clear coating them to contain the rust color and crust. Some of these assemblages and components are not sealed, leaving them exposed and raw.
With the exception of the marble and metal piece, “Luminous,” the stone work in the show is not sanded, polished or sealed. Two of the large stone sculptures are stacked and assembled simplistically using metal. This body of work is raw in my opinion.
Your work with Kansas fence posts is fascinating. Give us a little background on these ubiquitous objects in Kansas. How did they become part of your art? What is it about these fence posts that draws you in as an artist?
These limestone relics were quarried in Kansas to serve as fence posts because of lumber shortages for several decades, beginning in 1880. They can be found in north-central Kansas dotting the landscape. Many contain fossils, metal nails, and weather marks that enhance their appearance and draw me in as an artist.
I was introduced to the Kansas fence posts in 2006 at Camp Ocean Pines in Cambria during a sculpture symposium. The project on which I participated included the use of several fence posts, and was led by sculptors from Art City in Ventura, including Paul. The next year, I bought my first fence post and carved on it for days during the symposium. I became hooked and buy the posts from Art City, currently I have over 3 in process, including a commissioned fountain. Participating in 2 invitational shows in Ventura and showing my fence post sculptures locally has peeked my interest in the posts. Fortunately, I still own several that aren’t touched yet.
The Post Rocks, another name for the fence posts, that I own caught my eye because of their shape, size, or the curiosity that makes me want to know what is inside of them. These stones have already served a productive previous life and I get the opportunity to repurpose them as art. The endless possibilities with Post rocks is seductive. Being able to take them apart, carve, and adorn the sculpture with found objects excites me as an artist.
Your work requires the manipulation of big, heavy objects. What are some of the technical challenges that come with the kind of art you make?
I have been making big art since I began sculpting. Fortunately, I now have a truck and the experience to move large pieces of stone (over 200 pounds), and metal objects using
tools and leverage. I’ve learned from my mentors how to move giant welded creatures and heavy stone sculptures. We have a forklift at the studio, and I have a strong 13 year-old son at home, as well as friends with strong backs. While creating my works I consider how they will be moved and displayed. I break large pieces of material down into smaller ones. When faced with a daunting task, I have learned, from my art, to break it into baby steps.
I’m amazed how extensive the Chris Sorensen Studio has become. How many artists are now involved? Talk about some of the recent changes at the gallery.
We have 35 artists, not including Chris, either working at the studio or displaying their work at the studio. Chris has invited groups and individuals to show at the gallery and some have asked to show. We have featured shows like Nudes in November, the Pink Show, the Black and White Show, Artists of the Studio, and Art from the Heart.
There have always been artists working in the front studio portion of the Sorensen Space. Now we have that area divided into individual artist spaces and project and material storage as well as an enclosed office for Chris.
We have expanded the back area to included new artist studios and galleries. There are many talented and dedicated artists that have joined the space and are working to collaborate as artists of a studio. We have monthly studio potlucks and informal conversations about our individual work and goals.
All of this is because of Chris Sorensen and his vision of supporting artists and the arts. He believes in people and encourages everyone. Our gallery space is currently booked through 2013 and there is a waitlist for studio spaces.
In what ways do you think Chris Sorensen has contributed to the arts in Fresno?
Chris was one of the founders of ArtHop and has encouraged countless numbers of people to create art. His work can be seen throughout the city and in many private homes. Chris donates an incredible amount of art to community organizations, in addition to auction items and gifts to friends and family. He is very prolific and loves to share his creations.
Chris tells others to just make art. He supports artists’ dreams and visions. A great example is the $1000 prize for the Best of Show in the 3rd Annual Art from the Heart Show at the Chris Sorensen Gallery in February.
You recently had to clean up several of the well-known sculptures on the Fulton Mall. Tell us about that.
Back in August, a Facebook post was put up looking for a volunteer to clean graffiti off of The Washer Woman by Renoir and The Visit by local artist Renzi. The artist who maintains and cleans the sculptures was out of town. I spent over 10 hours cleaning the spray paint off of these treasures with a toothbrush. Did I mention that this happened during the first week of school?
If you had unlimited resources, what sort of sculpture would you try to make?
It has been a goal of mine to have a sculpture in the garden at the Fresno Art Museum. I would love to incorporate a large piece of local granite from the Academy Quarry, Kansas fence posts chosen from the piles in Kansas, and found metal objects from sources in Fresno. I would use local resources to move the stones, and the size of the materials would include the use of forklifts and possibly cranes. I dream big and have am fortunate to have mentors who work big, namely Chris and Paul. I would love to have a sculpture on the Fulton Mall at some point in my career. The uncertainty of the situation of the Mall and the art have made me hesitant to pursue this personal goal in favor of preserving our city’s current treasures.
Anything else you’d like to say about your art or the studio?
I have been participating in the Central California Sculptor’s Symposium in Cambria annually since 2006. Highlights have included participating in the Sculpture by the Sea project, a multi-component sculpture of a seascape, and the Jon Fisher project, a carving of a standing figure that’s over 9 feet tall done in Carrara marble. The marble sculpture is an ongoing 3 year project.
I was convinced by studio-mate Buck Buckner to attend in 2005 and have attended since with a crew of at least 5, including Buck and Chris. Artists for as far away as France, Japan, Florida, and New Mexico meet in Cambria every year in April for a week of classes, workshops, and presentations. The week culminates with a judged show of participants’ work. I won Best of Show in 2009 with my piece titled “Solo” and 1st place in mixed media in 2011 with “Blue Eye”, in addition to various other prizes over the years.