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Pittsburgh Center for the Arts honors Tim Kaulen for his reclaimed art |

Pittsburgh Center for the Arts honors Tim Kaulen for his reclaimed art

Kurt Shaw
| Sunday, October 11, 2009 12:00 a.m

Among those in the know of the Pittsburgh art scene, sculptor Tim Kaulen is recognized as a significant artist with a body of work that has had an impact on the region.

For 20 years, he has been using reclaimed and recycled materials to create whimsical, over-size sculptures — often in non-traditional urban spaces.

So, it’s no wonder that he has been chosen as the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts 2009 Artist of the Year, an honor that brings with it a major exhibition of the same title, that is on display at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts in Shadyside.

“The award is amazing one because of the history before me,” says Kaulen. “And the past recipients are pretty impressive. It puts me in great company.”

But where Kaulen may differ is that he truly is an artist’s artist. Someone who is thoroughly engaged in the local art scene and happy to be creating in the city that he so loves.

“The physical stimulus of a city provides me with a sense of responsibility and motivation to become an active participant in its environment,” Kaulen writes in his statement, “while at the same time enabling me to take a more anthropological approach towards researching building materials and settings for public art.”

Kaulen is co-founder of Industrial Arts Co-Op, a group of experimental Pittsburgh artists who in the mid-1990s constructed artworks in abandoned mills, factories and warehouses.

He began his career at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh where he studied with environmental artist Angelo Ciotti and the late Henry Koerner, both of whom, he says, inspired him to work outside the conventions of commercial art.

At his studio in Hazelwood, he continues to work on independent pieces, as well as collaborative projects and exhibitions. For this exhibit, he created three large steel-and-topiary outdoor sculptures, which are on display on the lawn of the center.

Borrowing from the allegorical title “Garden of Earthly Delights,” Kaulen says the pieces “pay homage to classic American tin and wooden toys from the turn of the century.”

Crafted from reclaimed steel and plastic, each piece — a duck, a giraffe and man on a horse — was constructed using an open-frame structure. Then, with the help of a team of a dozen workers, a layer of live shrubs and flowering vines were incorporated into the frames, ultimately creating a topiary effect.

“One Toy Giraffe” has a mane of Red Barron grass. Kaulen says the topiary element provides stark contrast to the dark, rigid steel that makes up the body of the piece.

“It softens the overall shape for me,” he says. “I also like that these pieces represent a blur between fine art and craft, lawn ornaments and playground equipment, decorative arts and architecture. … The topiary element supports this grey area, too, and adds a kitsch factor that usually appears in domestic collections and backyard landscaping.”

For the three new sculptures, Kaulen and his team worked for six months steadily.

Inside the art center is a retrospective of Kaulen’s work, including smaller sculptures and photographs of public art projects and collaborations with other artists from the past 15 years.

Works such as the wall-hung “Gas Girl,” a large-scale “portrait” made from salvaged signage, and “Go Finch,” a free-standing sculpture made from recycled rebar and vinyl gas-station signs, allude to the artist’s tendency to re-use and recycle.

Kaulen felt providing some context for his work was imperative to the exhibition. He asked graphic designers Suzanne Pace and Paul Schifino to help organize a more “reflective view” of his artistic practice.

Hence, “My Family Tree” displays photographs of many projects the artist has completed, ranging from his infamous “Space Monkey,” a massive steel silhouette of a monkey that railroad authorities once removed from a Downtown bridge.

Kaulen doesn’t mind that such massive pieces are only represented here in documentary photographs.

“Process is usually more important to me than results,” he says. “It’s where I spend the most time, most doubt, most deliberation, most sweat and most fun. The interior show illustrates a sliver of process.”

In addition to the artists who helped him with the outdoor pieces, Kaulen’s technical support team for this exhibit included folks from Bidwell Training Center, Chatham College, Construction Junction and Massaro Corporation, with additional support from P.J. Dick Inc., Trumbull Corp., Simpson Reinforcing Inc., Abel Tool Co. and James Gallery.

“I really do owe any individual achievement back to the camaraderie that exists in a fun idea,” he says. “I am convinced that the work in the exhibit is a product of greater conditions of our city. Not that it’s a cake-walk, because it is nearly impossible to create work on this level, but it is gratifying.”

Additional Information:

‘Tim Kaulen: 2009 Artist of the Year’

When: Through Nov. 8. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, noon-5 p.m. Sundays.

Admission: $5 suggested donation

Where: Pittsburgh Center for the Arts , 6300 Fifth Ave., Shadyside

Details: 412-361-0873

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