Artists’ Studios

A Conversation with Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle Artist Jimmy Kuehnle

Interview conducted by Alison Caplan, Akron Art Museum Director of Education

Jimmy Kuehnle: Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle, 2016, Akron Art Museum installation view. Photography by Shane Wynn

Jimmy Kuehnle: Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle, 2016, Akron Art Museum installation view (exterior). Photography by Shane Wynn

You develop your works on a computer. What is it like to not fully experience them until they reach a gallery or museum?

When I come to the gallery to install, it really feels like I have been walking around the space for a long time virtually in the computer. I know the places and can recall them. It is a strange sensation in the beginning to have most of my memories of the place be digital memories. As I work on the installation actual memories of the physical place replace former digital memories. At first, designing with the computer made it difficult for me to realize form. Now when I look at photos taken from site visits I get frustrated that I cannot spin the photo around to see behind objects in the way I can when I am modeling in a 3-D program. The main downside of not seeing the work before installing is I can never be really sure if it absolutely fits or if everything will work as designed. A really fun yet challenging aspect of one off site-specific work is that every time is the first time for all projects. This challenge adds to the potential joy I receive from installing the work since I see the work for the first time just like the audience.

What’s your studio like and what are the main tools you use to create your work?

I use a double needle industrial sewing machine set up in my attic. I can roll out the fabric and make simple pattern pieces ready to sew. When deflated the fabric does not take up a lot of space so I can store large-scale work. When I need lots of extra space I collaborate with local institutions to use available space and facilities on a temporary basis. For more complex shapes I use a digital projector to project the pattern shapes directly onto the fabric pinned on the wall. Then I draw the pattern pieces directly on the fabric with a sharpie and label it for later sewing in my studio.

Jimmy Kuehnle lowers fabric for Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle from his second-storey studio in Cleveland, Ohio. Photo: courtesy of the artist.

Jimmy Kuehnle lowers fabric for Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle from his second-storey studio in Cleveland, Ohio. Photo: courtesy of the artist.

Why did you choose red for the color of Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle?

Red makes a very bright environmental ambiance that attracts viewers’ attention and it is warm and pleasant to be around. Museums often have stark whites, grays and cool colors and the red provides a nice contrast to potentially sterile environments.

Artist Jimmy Kuehnle visits Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle, 2016, Akron Art Museum installation view (interior). Photography by Shane Wynn

Artist Jimmy Kuehnle visits Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle, 2016, Akron Art Museum installation view (interior). Photography by Shane Wynn

How did the Akron Art Museum’s architecture and collection influence the work?

The Akron Art Museum has very angular and eccentric architecture without a lot of right angles. As I designed the two appendages on the lobby inflatable to go up and down I referenced the museum’s exterior cloud forms and the form of the walkway on the second level. In addition, when the up-and-down movement is at a slightly bent state it intentionally mimics the Claes Oldenburg sculpture installed in the lobby.

Jimmy Kuehnle: Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle, 2016, Akron Art Museum installation view (interior). Photography by Shane Wynn

Jimmy Kuehnle: Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle, 2016, Akron Art Museum installation view (interior). Photography by Shane Wynn

What role does humor play in your artwork?

Life is a pretty absurd thing if you stop and think about it. It can be overwhelming and depressing to consider the inconsequential nature of all the things that you or anybody that you know may do. Therefore concentrating on the more pleasurable aspects of life including joy and humor is a better use of resources in my opinion. Also, museums can be places where most people whisper and don’t scream and shout. I really like that aspect of museums since it provides a great place to contemplate and really study a wonderful work of art. At the same time I like to question traditions by making something more playful that allows for audiences to laugh and giggle together. Hopefully the humor in the work will make human connections between each of the audience members and the piece.

Artist Jimmy Kuehnle visits Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle, 2016, Akron Art Museum installation view (interior). Photography by Shane Wynn

Artist Jimmy Kuehnle visits Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle, 2016, Akron Art Museum installation view (interior). Photography by Shane Wynn

Can you tell us about the polyester material your sculpture is made out of? How did you ended up working with that material?

The inflatable is made with a lightweight polyester material that has a coating on it. I began working with nylon when I first made Inflatables. As I started to put work outdoors for long periods of time, I needed to use fabric that would stand up in ultraviolet light. The polyester fabric is very similar to the nylon but the main difference is that it does not absorb moisture and has more UV resistance.

Some of your work incorporates performance and even this piece has time based elements—light and movement. Do you feel like your performative practice and sculptures are closely related?

I really enjoy performance-based work because of the spontaneity and the action involved. I can interact directly with the audience and change things on the fly based on the situation. Conversely working with a sculpture can be rather static compared to the performances. When I first started making installation work I wanted it to be interactive so the audience would still have a new novel experience even if it did not have a performance component. The recent Inflatable installations have intentional kinetic actions so people can see the work change over time and relate to it as a living creature that changes just like they do. Blinking lights give even more sensory experience and show the viewer that things do not exist just in a static place or moment in time but everything exists on a continuum.

Jimmy Kuehnle, You Wear What I Wear, inflatable suit, 2009

Jimmy Kuehnle, You Wear What I Wear, inflatable suit, 2009, photo: courtesy of the artist

Any surprises when creating or installing the work? There was one point when you were lost inside a sea of fabric and you stayed pretty cool and calm. Is that a usual occurrence? Our installation crew was struck by how visually appealing the works are on the inside.

The inside of inflatables is visually captivating and aside from the inflation process is my favorite part of inflatable sculpture. It can be difficult to safely allow the audience to go inside inflatables to experience the surreal environment so I design installations to simulate that experience. The inflatable in the Corbin gallery changes the viewer’s experience of a normally simply shaped exhibition space. Since the work is thoroughly planned out prior to fabrication there are not many surprises. The site-specific nature of the work means that unknowns always exist until the piece is fully installed. In the Akron installation we added sandbags to keep portions of the installation in place and I sewed more internal structure into the lobby piece after doing a test fit. During those sewing adjustments I left a pair of scissors in the inflatable that I had to fish out later and temporarily got lost in the pile of fabric. The crew in Akron helped me overcome any and all unexpected situations that came up during installation.

Jimmy Kuehnle: Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle  in the process of being installed at the Akron Art Museum in August 2016. Photo: courtesy of the Akron Art Museum

Jimmy Kuehnle: Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle in the process of being installed at the Akron Art Museum in August 2016. Photo: courtesy of the Akron Art Museum

Jimmy Kuehnle: Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle is on view at the Akron Art Museum through February 19, 2017.

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NEO Geo Studio Visits

By Theresa Bembnister, Associate Curator

If philosopher Alan Watts is right, and museums are the places art goes to die, then the artist’s studio must surely be the birthplace of a work of art.

For the record: I disagree with Watts. But I do relish the opportunity to see art in its native studio environment, before it’s displayed on the museum’s pristine walls. The context of an artist’s workspace offers clues as to how or why a particular artwork was made.

Studio visits made up a large part of the efforts required to organize NEO Geo. After scoping out an artist’s website, I would set up a studio visit to observe the work and ask questions. Not only did these observations and conversations guide my selections of works to include in the exhibition, but they were integral to gathering key information I could then convey to museum visitors through labels, tours, the brochure and this blog post.

NEO Geo artist Erik Neff

Pastel drawings on display in Erik Neff’s studio.

Pastel drawings on display in Erik Neff’s studio.

I visited Erik Neff’s studio in Newbury in rural Geauga County in early April and mid-May of last year. A prolific artist, Neff creates pastel drawings on paper in addition to the oil paintings and wooden sculptures selected for NEO Geo.

Small paintings stored in a flat file in Erik Neff’s studio.

Small paintings stored in a flat file in Erik Neff’s studio.

Neff’s studio serves a dual role of a place to make and store artwork. His flat file drawer holds examples of the modestly scaled paintings the artist made when his children were younger. Now that they spend their days at school, Neff has more time to devote to larger canvases like the ones you see in NEO Geo.

Erik Neff’s paintings in their natural habitat.

Erik Neff’s paintings in their natural habitat.

During my visits, Neff displayed his larger and mid-sized canvases propped up on aluminum cans, leaning against the wall. Neff’s painting Between, which is included in NEO Geo, is on the right of this photograph; the edge of Breakwater is barely visible on the far right.

The studio mascots in the studio.

The studio mascots in the studio.

Neff places his small wooden sculptures, or studio mascots, as he likes to call them, on a wooden bench. Here you see a set of Neff’s pastels in the background, and the wooden stove that heats his studio is visible on the far right. The wooden blocks Neff uses to construct his sculptures would have ended up in the stove if they hadn’t had a visual appeal to the artist, who sets them near his palette and brushes paint on their surfaces from time to time.

NEO Geo artist Paul O’Keeffe

I visited Paul O’Keeffe’s studio, which was specifically designed and constructed for the backyard of his Cleveland Heights home, in mid-March and late June of last year. A beautiful natural light fills his workspace.

Paul O’Keeffe’s stash of acrylic.

Paul O’Keeffe’s stash of acrylic.

O’Keeffe purchases colored acrylic pieces that are rejects from improperly cut commercial orders. He layers the translucent sheets atop one another, creating new hues in the process.

The early stage of a distant silence XXX and XXI.

The early stage of a distant silence XXX and XXI.

When I visited O’Keeffe in June, he had begun work on his two newest sculptures in the exhibition, a distant silence XXX and XXXI. You can see the skeletons of those two works, which were constructed in part with materials from a botched job for a Victoria’s Secret store.

O’Keeffe’s method of combining individual components comes from an example set by sculptor David Smith. “Years ago, as a student, I came across photos of him laying out individual found metal elements on the floor prior to welding (and also composing with cardboard). My acrylic pieces are generated in a similar fashion although the sensibility is considerably different.”

NEO Geo artist Janice Lessman-Moss

I first visited Janice Lessman-Moss’ Kent studio in mid-March of last year, with a follow up visit at the end of May.

Sketches pinned to the wall in Janice Lessman-Moss’ studio.

Sketches pinned to the wall in Janice Lessman-Moss’ studio.

Pinned to the wall above her flat file are print-outs of digital sketches for the artist’s Random Walk series. The random walk theory, which is used to explain the unpredictability of the stock market’s rise and fall, serves as inspiration for the patterns that appear in works in this series, which Lessman-Moss weaves on a digital jacquard loom in her studio. None of the Random Walk weavings are on display in NEO Geo, but the work visible on the right in the above photograph, #420, is part of the series of tapestries created at the same industrial mill in North Carolina where the textiles in NEO Geo were woven.

Janice Lessman-Moss’ “crayon box.”

Janice Lessman-Moss’ “crayon box.”

On the opposite wall hangs what Lessman-Moss refers to as her “crayon box,” a tapestry that doubles as a palette for the colors the artist creates by instructing the industrial digital loom to weave threads in a particular order. She set up a corresponding digital palette in Photoshop, the program she uses to create her designs before transferring them into files for the digital loom using software called Pointcarre.

Janice Lessman-Moss sharing the "crayon-box" during her talk at the NEO Geo opening reception. Photo: Shane Wynn.

Janice Lessman-Moss sharing the “crayon box” during her talk at the NEO Geo opening reception. Photo: Shane Wynn.

Each of the many, many colors featured in the complex designs of the weavings on display in NEO Geo corresponds to a square on the crayon box. This tool, which hangs on the wall directly above the desk where the artist sits to design her tapestries, provides valuable insight into the work’s creation—insights best obtained through visits to the artist’s studio, the birthplace of the works of art.

Find out more about NEO Geo, on view at the Akron Art Museum through April 24, 2016. • View the NEO Geo exhibition catalog online.