By Cynthia Hibbard
An old hand at carved stone sculpture, Ken Barnes is still compelled by new ideas.
After nearly 20 years at his practice, Barnes has shifted gears from visualizing large pieces of selected and shaped stones mounted on other stones to finding new possibilities in smaller pieces and displaying them in innovative ways.
Barnes’ new work at Shift this month reflects his refreshed focus.
“The traditional way of displaying stone sculpture is that you carve something, stick a pin in it and put it on another lump of stone,” Barnes said. “I found that I was not being satisfied with the traditional way.”
And so, to present his Sunken Boat black marble piece, Barnes fashioned a tilted steel frame to lift and hold it “kind of like friendly giant holding it up by the fingertips,” he said. “There was something about the middle of that piece—I wanted to have it unencumbered so the viewer could see under it. Partly it was that the traditional way of finding the balance point and sticking a pin in there would have felt like it was interfering with the energy flow.”
For Little Boat, also black marble, Barnes created a steel rack on which it rests that calls to mind a canoe resting on a wooden boat rack “like you might see it and want to take it out on the water for a paddle,” Banes said.
In Un-broken, Barnes combines the ancient Japanese tradition of “kintsugi” with his new approach. In Japan, broken crockery is lovingly patched together with gold-infused lacquer so that the history of the vessel is apparent and honored for the story it tells.
Barnes took a black marble stone and smashed it on his studio floor. Then he gathered the pieces and put them back together with brass powder in his lacquer so that all the cracks were exposed. Further, he hung his reconstruction inside a steel-frame box, replicating the look of a specimen that one might find in a natural history museum.
In Playful, Barnes sliced up a portoro marble sculpture and reattached the pieces in an unexpected way.
For Skewer, a partially polished piece of diorite with the markings in the rock left exposed, Barnes thought he might run a rod through it and hang it horizontally like a roast turning on a barbeque spit, but then he realized the piece would be more effective hung vertically from a steel beam.
In many instances, Barnes is rediscovering and reimagining the excess stone he’s had lying around his shop for years. Previously, he said he said he would start a project by visualizing the scale (often large) of a design and then go looking for a suitable rock.
“What is interesting to me now is finding attractive forms that are independent of scale,” he said. “This way, I can do something that’s dramatically smaller and still be happy with it.”
Barnes’ clients will benefit too for not needing forklifts to remove their purchases.