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Art: More than mere facades, tiles or sculptures

(May 2010) US-Artist Larry Kirkland realizes fascinating ideas in stone. His contractors are universities that aim to make a difference, cities wishing to commemorate one of their citizens or private investors who want to leave a lasting impression, to name but a few.

Kirkland’s latest work was a contract for the Texas Tech University, more specifically for their Medical School in El Paso. The establishment boasts two new structures longing to be incorporated in the environment and the surrounding campus optically and symbolically.

Kirkland created a near mythical path between both buildings filled with medical and natural symbolism intricately transposed into stone. The ground is covered in red Balmoral Granite, the entire length of which carries the double helix of a DNA molecule, which in turn, carries the engravings of animals exchanging glances with passers by or seemingly approaching them as they walk the length of the 60 m walk.

More striking still are the four portals, the outer two of which are conceived as a sort of oversized keyhole alluding to the knowledge to which the beginner must find the key that will later assist him in his research work. Black granite was the material of choice.

In contrast the two inner portals are made of yellow and red granite and are designed after the side view of a human head, one as a contour for the portal and one on the inside.

With the help of the plant design on the portals, Kirkland attracts the outside world. Unmistakably inspired by Spanish tradition – after all Mexico is but a stone’s throw away. The work bears the title „El Intercambio“ or „Exchange“. It is not merely decorative, but also serves a purpose, in this case making a statement that is an appeal to scientist, professor and students alike to be constantly mindful of their subservience to their patients and to nature itself.

Another project was „Orbis Terrarum“, or „World Atlas“ for the „ResidenSea Cruise Ship“ built in 2002. The ship has been transformed into apartments which residents can comfortably inhabit permanently or for shorter stays while touring the world. The name is derived from the first Atlas published in 1570 in Antwerp which bore the title „Theatrum Orbis Terrarum“ depicting the continents and oceans according to the state of the art of the 16th century.

The origin of the name also inspired Kirkland in designing the lobby on board: a black granite plate engraved with an ancient coastal chart interspersed with pictures of typical of seafarer’s symbols: the hull of a ship or seaman’s knots. A steel plate portal representing map contours draws attention to a stellar chart of ancient cultures such as the Chinese representation of a newly discovered star or the Inuit chart of the winter sky.

No less unusual is Kirkland’s art work for the Iwate University in the Japanese city of Marioka. „Reflections“ is the title fitting the location: a colossal head shaped from white marble and cut into five vertical slices. The inner contours of each slice bears a symbol for thought, such as a swallow in flight or nine small windows, one of which is empty, symbolizing memory or backward reflection.

Conspicuously, Kirkland never completes standing-alone pieces – most bear a relation to one another and are comprised of several interrelating pieces, as with the Iwate-Project where each of the five slices all have a bearing on one another, each dealing with a single facet of a global theme.

„A Writer’s Desk“ is another multi-faceted work, this one for Rolfe Neill in Charlotte, North Carolina and is reminiscent of one of the publisher of a local paper. It was positioned in front of the Children’s Learning Center to which it attracts attention.

Kirkland’s multifunctional work is a mixture of monument and playground. Strewn about, visitors will find tools of the writing trade, not merely decorative in nature: pencils are benches, the keys of a typewriter are stools facing a stage and tipped stamps carry a moral appeal to journalists.

Towering in the centre is a stack of books adorned by an inkwell out of which the obligatory quill protrudes. Various types of marble were used.

The artist relies on his right and left hand to complete the work as he expounds in a mail: these are the Laboratorio di Scultura SGF near Carrara and Elite Granite and Marble of Hillsboro, Oregon.

Fledgling member to this elite circle is the Vermont based Rock of Ages Company, Graniteville, responsible for the latest project in Pasadena, California scheduled to be unveiled in June.

In the soon to be published „Natural Histories. Public Art of Larry Kirkland“ (Essay by Nancy Princenthal, Architecture and Interiors Press) several more impressive works of Kirkland’s are depicted and described: such as „Garden Stair“ completed for a library in Portland, Oregon whose black granite steps bear designs of flora and fauna, or „Vox Populi“ completed for Metroview Federal Building in New Carrollton, Maryland comprised of two black columns and a white marble and black granite pyramid symbolizing the Republic.

Or „Story Garden“ situated in the Waterfront Park in Portland: a stylized labyrinth made of stone slabs laid out as a walk. The granite plates depict scenes from human life.

Larry Kirkland

Laboratorio di Scultura SGF

Elite Granite and Marble

Rock of Ages

Photos: Larry Kirkland