A conversation between Lynda Harwood-Swenson and Ken Barnes on his show Transitions-August 2021
LHS: I notice that the work you included in the exhibition is mostly rounded and organic, as a contrast to the geometric shapes in the works on the wall. Can you speak a little about how you chose these works to sit together?
KB: I let Annie go through my portfolio and pick work that spoke to her as a match for pieces of hers. Color was important, but aspect ratio also played a role.
LHS: You have shared very little about the work in your labels, is that intentional and can you speak a little about your ideas of abstraction and how you want the viewer to interact with the forms?
KB: I tend to be far too brief on labels, viewing them as identifiers, not statements. I doodle around forms that interest me, drawing and re-drawing them until they turn into something that I think I can create in stone. Sometimes the idea is very explicitly referential, but often it is abstracted from a form that I find attractive. The forms in this show were originally derived from an office building, a red blood cell, a sail, a boat, a sea urchin spine and an acorn.
LHS: Working with stone seems daunting- I imagine you have a huge studio with power tools everywhere. Can you talk about your process, from buying the raw materials to knowing when to stop working on a piece?
KB: I do have a large studio with every power tool known to mankind. But I’ve also gotten very good at knowing how to work any piece of stone. In the past I would sometimes make maquettes from plaster, but I find that I can work more quickly in stone now than in plaster so I’ve skipped that step.
For Shift-scale work I do what I call “stone sketching”. In two to five hours I’ll rough out a stone to see if the shape and scale are going to work with the idea that I was contemplating. If it isn’t working it goes into the bone pile. If it is working then I’ll continue to make refinements until it is finished. How does anyone know when a piece is done? There is a certain mix of raw and refined that I like in my work. Often, I don’t understand when I’ve hit that right mix until I step back and see that I’m there. I’m always pleasantly surprised to be done more quickly than I expected.
I acquire stone from many sources: dealers, other sculptors, and wild capture.
LHS: Are their artists that you follow that influence your work?
KB: I like Noguchi, Moore, Hepworth and Uchida. Locally, Dave Haslett is doing some great work that I enjoy, though I don’t emulate it yet.
LHS: You have been a practicing artist for many years, how has the work evolved, and what drives you to keep making new work?
KB: I’m not sure I can state a particular direction my work has gone. I do think it has evolved away from my early Noguchi influence in more of a biophilic direction. As I make work I develop a language and that language gets increasingly easy to speak. The key is to not keep saying the same words over and over, but to use the vowels and consonants in new ways to make beautiful objects. Generally speaking, the more time I spend in the studio and making sketches the more ideas I have. I’m motivated to try out those ideas and turn them into something beautiful.