|Pledge, dollar bills and steel, 2002|
In meeting artist Ken Little, it's easy to picture him as a small child on the high plains of Amarillo, a Red Rider BB Gun in one hand and a Silver Surfer comic book in the other. That collision of past and futuristic fantasy created a strange formative environment for the budding sculptor. Each of Little's objects - now on display at Southwest School of Art and Craft - harbor a telltale, self-conscious irony. Like their creator, they are doggedly engaged in a philosophical do-si-do that typifies the head-scratching absurdity of the contemporary American experience.
The wide selection of Little's work includes early ceramic portraits and more recent bronze, neon, and steel hybrids - revealing a balance of high craft and nuance. Paint, ceramics, clay, hay, performance, papier mâché, shoes, bronze, leather, neon, steel, taxidermy forms: Little is not content with one mode of expression, indicating his active and ever-changing relationship to the world at large. His exploration of each medium is an attenuated thought, stretched to its logical conclusion.
After graduating from Texas Tech in 1970 with a BFA in painting, Little migrated to Salt Lake City, Utah for his MFA. There, his interest in painting waned in favor of ceramics. In the '70s, ceramics existed at the very edge of contemporary art practice, straddling a blurry distinction between academia and the traditionally defined "outsider" art of the uneducated masses.
Little began mixing clay and found objects with ceramic shards, fabricating flamboyant hybrid sculptures - large-scale ceramic "portraits" that earned him national attention as he crisscrossed the country over the next 10 years. During the '70s and '80s, he taught at schools throughout the nation: the University of South Florida, Tampa; the University of Montana, Missoula; the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred; UC-Davis; the University of Oklahoma-Norman. He finally landed at the University of Texas at San Antonio in 1988.
|Bird, dollar bills and steel, 2002|
In San Antonio, Little's muse evolved again, this time guiding him to select bronze as his mode of expression. His well-known bronze animal masks of the late-'80s and early '90s are a heartfelt attempt to circumvent the perils of modernity - at re-linking man with his unpolluted, prehistoric state. Instead of using fragile, tainted human forms, Little anthropomorphizes wild beasts - creatures that flourish in spite of their environment. He imparts their
| LITTLE CHANGES: |
Through September 7
Southwest School of Art & Craft
Little's later steel sculptures are skeletal animal forms reconstructed from molds of discarded shoes and bulky humanoid carriages meticulously tiled in authentic greenbacks. They exist like elegantly decoupaged tortoise shells, funerary objects poached of meaning and sucked dry of intent. Each dangles in feigned flight or coerced restfulness, also attempting reconciliation with nature - but failing to do so.
Little's ongoing critique of the American condition exists without malice. He celebrates humanity's fickle contradictions, and reminds us - through shared myth and subtle supposition - that our flaws make us human. These days, it is not uncommon to meet a well-known video artist who has no idea which way to point a camera or an artist working in bronze who can't make a mold to save his or her life. Little's skill and craftsmanship distinguishes him from the current legion of conceptual artists who tend to hold concept above execution. •