ABOUT KREG KALLENBERGER'S SCULPTURE
The evolution of Kreg Kallenberger's work is as strong an example as any of the impact of circumstances and surroundings on an artist's work. With the move of his studio to the edge of the Osage Hills, his sculpture radically changed. The series' names convey this directly: the Cuneiform and Interlock series were concerned exclusively with issues of form, to the degree that they were often executed in black glass, as if to deny the properties of glass itself and assert the primacy of the form. Later series became increasingly anecdotal, emphasizing place and experience, and exploiting the properties of glass to achieve this end. The comparison can be simplified to "looking in" versus "looking out."
The Titanic series introduced a narrative element to Kallenberger's formal composition, but it is not a literal depiction. Rather, it suggests an aura of mystery, drawing on the popular mythology of the fabled ship that could not sink. Where the Cuneiform and Interlock pieces celebrate the machine aesthetic without reservation, the Titanic series tempers that enthusiasm with the suggestion of man's limitations in taming nature. That cautionary note is further explored in a second series of work derived from an almost contemporaneous disaster in a frozen sea, the ill-fated expedition of Sir Ernest Shackleton and the crew of the "Endurance". Intending to be the first to reach and cross Antarctica overland, the ship was crushed in the ice. For five months, Shackleton and his men drifted on ice packs and in open life-boats across the stormiest ocean on the globe. Kallenberger has capitalized on the pristine perfection of optical crystal to convey the silence and vastness of the Antarctic wilderness, creating a powerful evocation of this heroic saga.
The landscape theme which has dominated much of Kallenberger's recent work was inspired by his immediate surroundings. The Osage Hills of Oklahoma stretch north and west of Tulsa looking much the same as they did a century ago. This is in fact the Osage Indian Nation, which even today seems frozen in an earlier time. The grand houses of the Osage Indians stand on the cliffs overlooking Pawhuska; hundreds of buffalo graze in the nearby Tall Grass Prairie Preserve. Oil tycoon Frank Phillips built his spectacular ranch in the Osage, playing host to the rich and powerful from around the world, while Pretty Boy Floyd wandered the hills to evade the law and Woody Guthrie immortalized the region in song. Cedars and scrub oak cover the area, which has largely escaped the blight of human intrusion. Kallenberger's fascination with this landscape embraces its serenity while the optical qualities of his sculpture underscore its quiet beauty. The drama of the sculptural landscape is revealed almost incidentally as the viewer walks around these works, just as a spectacular roadside view may be glimpsed and lost in a rear-view mirror. The incorporation of native sandstone in these pieces ties them even more closely to their visual point of departure, as well as adding another perceptual layer to the sculpture. As the viewer circles the work, it is not clear whether it is the stone or the glass which creates the panoramic vista. Kallenberger uses sandstone in these compositions precisely because of its fragile nature. Because of its softness, sandstone records its own history more graphically than harder rocks, with each stone embodying a unique landscape of its own.
In these works, Kallenberger shares a real kinship with the 19th century painters of the Hudson River School, who expressed a belief in something wondrously vital within the uncontaminated landscape, which not only resists man but imbues him with its spirit. But Kallenberger is not replicating a literal landscape and his methods even more specifically recall the work of J.M.W. Turner, who abstracted landscape to its basic elements. Turner's landscapes portray light itself as a cosmic force. Color is abstract and expressive, rather than merely descriptive, seeking the visionary within the ordinary. Through the medium of glass, Kallenberger has carried the manipulation of imagery with light to its ultimate degree.
Kallenberger's recent Reservoir series calls up a literal reference to his surroundings but is also a subtle homage to "the vessel," a traditional starting point for artists working in glass or clay, much as the human form has been an enduring paradigm for conventional painting and sculpture. Yet this reference is only in passing. Like Ron Nagle's sculptural "cups", evincing no cavity, Kallenberger's "reservoir" is a negligible indentation in a serene formal composition, again suggesting a sense of proportion and scale exceeding the actual dimensions of the work.
The issue of scale has particularly plagued artists working with glass: how to achieve monumental impact, given the technical limitation of the medium? The answers have been varied, ranging from massive castings that require many hundreds of pounds of molten glass to achieve, to multi-component environments that envelope the viewer. Kallenberger opts for the indirect, creating the perception rather than the actuality of monumentality. The tiny elements in his compositions convey vastness of scale within a relatively modest size, and underscore a subjective narrative message, expressing man's smallness against the vastness of nature. This devise was also brilliantly exploited by 19th century landscape painters who used tiny figures set against a dramatic landscape to convey relative power.
Although the compelling themes for artists may be timeless, the means for effectively expressing them are not. It is the irony of our age that we crave the wonder of art and are simultaneously so suspicious of it. We are too smart, too sophisticated, too cynical. The theatrical fireworks of the great history painters and landscapists no longer play quite the same; they are somehow excessive and too sentimental. Yet our desire for the heroic remains, despite our jaded resistance. Through the abstract medium of glass, Kallenberger has tapped into these enduring impulses, using the classic archetypes of man against nature in a wholly modern format. The technical precision and formal strength of his sculptures amplify their effectiveness as suggestive, evocative works which come to life with the participation of the viewer.
Over the past thirty years, Kallenberger has worked in a progression of distinct series, each with an individual thrust. It would be inaccurate, however, to compartmentalize these efforts, since each has built toward subsequent explorations. The recurring wedge form of more recent pieces is indirectly derived from the earlier Interlock series, where the artist became increasingly intrigued with the segments of glass being removed from the finished sculpture and began to pursue the sculptural possibilities of those fragments. Similarly, the natural rock components of his painted works recall the two-part Cuneiform pieces, where the spatial relationship between the components is as much a part of the work as the components themselves. These series cannot be called completed. They will continue to inform and mold the evolution of Kreg Kallenberger's work, enriched and expanded through experience and discovery.