By Brian Goslow
Chesterfield, MA – For someone whose works seem permanently placed due to their multi-ton weight, James Kitchen’s iron sculptures move around -– a lot. The Chesterfield, Mass. resident’s “Saturn,” which weighs 3,000 pounds, was initially on the Northampton Fairgrounds before being moved to Worcester for its “Art in the Park” outside sculpture festival, the grounds of the Springfield Museums and the Northampton Courthouse before returning to Springfield, where it currently is one of 100 of his works on display citywide. The giant-like “Day’s End,” which debuted Memorial Day Weekend at the Paradise City Arts Festival in Northampton and currently towers over Worcester’s Elm Park, where it’ll remain till October 13; miniature versions of the work are currently available at Worcester’s Prints & the Potter Gallery, where they’re part of an exhibition of Kitchen’s “smaller” works to raise funds for the city’s Art in the Park Festival. Artscope managing editor caught the always-busy Kitchen right as summer melted into autumn.
HOW TALL AND HOW HEAVY IS “DAY’S END?” AND WHAT WAS ITS INSPIRATION?
Day’s End is just under 20-feet and weighs about 4,000 lbs.
I found some very worn and beat-up railroad spikes a few years ago. I pondered the weight of the trains and the pounding each spike took over the years…they just looked very worn and tired. When I played with the pieces they turned into a human figure with heavy hands and stooped shoulders. The sculpture seemed to reflect the human condition I see most of us too often experience. When I was young, a carpenter or factory worker could support a wife and a bunch of kids. Then the wife needed to work. Now it seems most people have more than one job. I’m reminded of the Red Queen in “Through the Looking Glass,” who said, “It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.
WHERE DID THE MATERIALS COME, HOW DID YOU SHAPE INTO ITS “GIANT” FORM AND HOW IN THE WORLD DID YOU EVER TRANSPORT IT FROM CHESTERFIELD TO WORCESTER?
The materials were recycled from up in Vermont. Because of the incredible size and weight, I constructed the sculpture with the help and expertise of Renaud Brothers and Renaud’s Valley Crane of Vernon, VT. They have all the cranes, lulls, and knowledge of building bridges and huge projects like that, so they seemed the perfect partner. They are all wonderful people and I enjoyed working with them.
A crane is needed to pick the piece up. I have a low 18’ trailer that I set it on and strap it tight — it is always a hoot watching people as I drive by with the sculpture.
FOR WORK THAT LOOKS PERMANENTLY PLACED AND IMMOVABLE, YOU’VE MOVED SOME OF YOUR BIGGER PIECES AROUND A LOT. WHAT’S RUNNING THROUGH YOUR HEAD ON MOVING DAY?
Let’s just say that I do not need coffee when I am careening down the road with the behemoth just missing bridge heights. On the good side, I guess all my troubles are behind me…
IS IT EASIER CREATING SMALLER VERSIONS OF YOUR WORK LIKE “DAY’S END,” WHICH ARE AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE AT YOUR EXHIBITION TO HELP RAISE FUNDS FOR ART IN THE PARK IN WORCESTER, MASS?
Absolutely, as I do not need help holding the pieces together or industrial equipment, like cranes.
THREE OF FOUR YEARS AGO, ALONG WITH THE WORKS I’VE SEEN AT ART IN THE PARK AND SUBSEQUENTLY IN FRONT OF NORTHAMPTON CITY HALL, WE USED TO SEE YOUR WORK ALONGSIDE ROUTE 9 IN THE WILLIAMSBURG AREA AS WE’D DRIVE TO THE SHEEP AND WOOL FESTIVAL IN CUMMINGTON. NOW, OUTSIDE OF ONES THAT HAVE SOLD, THEY’RE ALL TOGETHER ON THE STREETS OF SPRINGFIELD. HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT?
I met Evan Plotkin at Paradise City Arts Fair and we put some pieces where he owns buildings. Evan introduced me to MassDevelopment at 1550 Main in Springfield and they partnered with me to have 60 pieces on display on two floors in and around their building. Don Courtemanche of the BID in Springfield helped find 30 spots throughout the city to put more giant pieces all around the downtown area. The BID also created a map of where to find all of the pieces. The map is also on my website.
HOW MANY ARE CURRENTLY ON VIEW THERE?
It is over 100. There are also always new pieces at Artist Group Gallery headed by Tracy Woods located at 1500 Main Street.
THEIR DISPLAY PERIOD WAS JUST EXTENDED – HOW LONG ARE THEY SCHEDULED TO REMAIN ON VIEW IN SPRINGFIELD?
They are there until spring. I am looking for the next venue to place the pieces now. Let me know if you have any suggestions.
YOUR LARGER WORKS ARE NORMALLY DISPLAYED IN HEAVILY TRAVELED PUBLIC PLACES? HAS THIS LEAD TO OFFERS OF OTHER EXHIBITIONS -– AND BETTER YET -– SOME SALES?
Evan Plotkin and his partners purchased the 35-foot high bird that is permanently displayed at 1350 Main. Others have ended up sold and moved all over Massachusetts.
CONSIDERING HOW PROLIFIC YOU’VE BEEN, I SUSPECT MOST PEOPLE ARE SURPRISED THIS IS FAR FROM YOUR FULL-TIME JOB. WHAT DO YOU DO DURING THE DAY AND HOW MUCH TIME A WEEK DO YOU ACTUALLY HAVE TO PUT TOWARDS CREATING ART?
Most of my art is created at night and on the weekends, as I am a construction supervisor for the Home Store out of Whately, Mass. When the housing market was good, I was working at least 50-hours a week. Now it has slowed down a bit.
HOW MUCH OF THAT IS SPENT SEARCHING FOR NEW MATERIALS?
At least half of my time is spent driving around looking for inventory. It gets harder and harder to find neat old metal as mountains of metal are shipped to China every day. My favorite place to go is an old farm where a farmer lived through the Great Depression — that guy never threw anything away. “You might need that someday,” they would all say. It is like St. Peter just opened up the heavenly gates as there will be an old 38 Studebaker sticking out of the ground or tractor parts and plows — the excitement peaks when you get home and go through all the iron. It is like finding a jigsaw puzzle without the picture — the important thing to remember is that when your wife sees all the stuff say, “It’s not junk, its inventory.”
WHEN WE TALKED A FEW YEARS BACK, YOU SAID IT WAS GETTING HARDER TO UNCOVER WELL-PRESERVED MATERIAL TO TURN IN SCULPTURE. I SUSPECT IT’S NOT GETTING ANY EASIER. AS YOUR WORK GETS BETTER KNOWN, DO YOU FIND PEOPLE ARE KEEPING AN EYE OUT FOR YOU IN THAT REGARD?
One of the great feelings is when I come home and see a pile of iron artifacts will be waiting for me that was left by a friend or neighbor. Often times people prefer to see the pieces get reused and/or just want to see what the pieces will turn into.
WHEN I’VE SEEN YOU WITH YOUR WORK IN WORCESTER, IT ALWAYS SEEMS YOU’RE ENGAGED IN GREAT CONVERSATIONS WITH PEOPLE LOOKING AT YOUR WORK WHO NOT ONLY SHARE THEIR IMPRESSIONS, BUT TEND TO HAVE STORIES RELATED TO SOME OF THE MATERIALS UTILIZED IN YOUR WORK, ESPECIALLY IF THEY’RE MACHINE PARTS THEY REMEMBER WORKING WITH. IS THAT A REWARDING PART OF THIS?
History and recycling are strong themes of my work, but the most important part for me is connecting the people with the art. I strive to always create pieces that have great meaning to me. Usually that also ends up being a universal shared value that most people will recognize and relate to. The piece that I displayed at Art in the Park last time was called ‘Denkmal.’ It is a German word for a memorial sculpture. Denk means to think and mal means a moment or time — think a moment. I love that word and it is my hope that my art gets the viewer to stop and think a moment.
The most rewarding moment ever for me was when I placed ‘Saturn’ in Art in the Park a few years ago. I delivered it a week before the official opening and when I returned there was actually another ring around Saturn — so many people walked around and around the piece that the grass was worn away in a circle. It was at that moment that I realized how great Worcester was to place the sculpture in the park. All the negative talk and fear about likely graffiti and vandalism vanished and never happened. There was just a warm place in my heart for the Park and all the incredible people that worked to make the display happen — that feeling has never gone away.
HOW DID YOU FIRST START –- AND WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR FIRST CREATION?
It was 15 years ago and I had a very stressful job as the VP of Production at a publishing company. I remember always being frustrated at the artists who were never on time and my ship date never changed — it was like watching a relay race and I was the last guy that had to sprint at the end to make up for the dropped baton.
My wife suggested that we take a vacation and go up to Wells Beach in Maine. It was beautiful. We stayed right on the beach and the shoreline was filled with rocks. I decided to start stacking rocks and it became a Zen thing. I realized that you could balance anything if you find three points of contact. By the afternoon I had filled the entire area with rocks balancing — some four, five or six high. People thought that I had super-glued them or something.
Then a woman walked up to me. She was an art professor from New York and she said three words that changed my life — and it wasn’t I love you. She said, “Who’s the artist?” She asked if she could take photos for her art class and that she liked their juxtaposition — I thought, juxta what? Then I considered, who’s the artist? — and I realized, I want to be an artist!
I don’t know who that woman was, but she changed my life that day. I went back home and balanced rocks in my yard and then started carving rocks, and then collected old metal and taught myself how to weld. My first piece is hanging on my wall; it is a pan with a face on it made with tool parts. My art has gradually gotten bigger and bigger, and now I am often up on a ladder thinking about gravity and insurance…
IF YOU COULD PLACE ONE OF YOUR WORKS ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD, WHICH ONE WOULD IT BE AND WHERE WOULD YOU LOVE TO SEE IT SITED -– AND WHY?
‘Saturn.’ On Earth Day I would like it to be on the White House lawn. It is the most popular piece I have. After ‘Saturn’ was at Art in the Park, it went to the Museum of Fine Arts in Springfield. But before it went there, I brought it home and added a few more pieces. I noticed that while it was at the park, kids and adults could not help touching the piece. It was like where’s Waldo in that everyone would look for different pieces — a hammer, doorknob, or the pistol that is in there — so I added moving pieces all along the edge, little wheels and faucets that could turn so that kids could enjoy the piece even more. When it was on display in Northampton, I placed a light in it and it added another dimension to it…
I always have more ideas than time…
Next month my band James Kitchen & the Appliances are playing in Cummington, Mass. for a Food Bank Benefit and we will be filming a public service announcement for Stavros. They provide ramps for people with wheelchairs so that they can get in and out of their own homes — most people do not know that insurance provides people with wheelchairs, but not a ramp! I created a sculpture for Stavros made out of wheel chairs and the wings were made out of 100 or so crutches.
A young filmmaker, Ben Tobin, did a documentary about me that will be showing at all the local libraries in the Pioneer Valley. Ben and I are attending each screening to talk about the process and art.
I am planning another large piece for Paradise City next spring and there are a number of new pieces rusting nicely in my backyard getting ready to be put on display somewhere…
Springfield is having me design a large 9/11 memorial that will use a 3,000 beam from the World Trade Towers. The beam will become a gnomon. A gnomon is the indicator on a sundial and the beam, placed at the correct angle, will cast a shadow and silently mark 8:46, 9:03, and all the events of 9/11. The sundial will end up being about a 20-foot circle and it is exciting to think about bringing time and motion into the memorial. I am also in discussions about creating a huge whirlwind to place near the river park to memorialize the June tornado, and the MGM Casino people have indicated they are interested in working together. I was able to get three 3,300 lb. sections from the old armory building where soldiers marched under a 50-foot high roof. The beautiful arched sections that I have are 12-feet high and will create a wonderful base to a great piece. The proposed site for the casino, if built, is exactly where the pieces came from. They were built back around 1870-1880 and have huge rivets in them — very much like the Eiffel Tower looks and feels. (It’s) Very exciting for me to contemplate.
There’s more on my list, but I’m starting to feel like my ‘Day’s End’ piece as this is written.
(For more details on James Kitchen’s work, where you can see it, and how you can buy it, visit http://www.jameskitchen.com.)