Introduction by Portfolio
This introductory portfolio is meant to give you a short general orientation to the artist and his work over about 45 years.
My work reflects a need to invent and evolve. I like to move through things and onto others and then come back through again in a new way. I was a ceramic sculptor for about ten years. In about 1980, I made the transition to using a number of media making sculpture, installations, and performances. My work has almost always been figurative in one way or another. Readings have run the gamut from the literal autobiographical to more universal ruminations on themes from the world of ideas.
As early as I can remember, I knew that I wanted to be an artist. That has remained consistent in my life since I was hand painting china with my grandmother when I was six years old.
My idea of what an artist is and what they do has evolved allot. When I was a kid I wanted to animate for Walt Disney. As a young man, I wanted to emulate the western artists like Charlie Russell. In college, I learned of Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, Conceptual, Process, and Minimal art. Now I guess it’s Postmodernism? I think that I have taken something from all these experiences as well as life and the more popular culture.
I work with my hands and my head. Really, I guess, in a sort of antique way. I usually don’t know where I am going or exactly what I am going to make until I establish some sort of dialog between my process or materials and my ideas or subject matter. I can’t really say that one comes before the other. In fact, when things are working best, I am really transported somewhere else doing something that I could never have imagined or planned.
Ken Little 2012
Ken Little with various bronze masks: 1988
"Lookout!" 2011; Cast Iron masks, steel and LED lighting; 8'H x 16'W x 8'D; This is a temporary outdoor installation of the 1988 Kohler Arts Industry castings reconfigured to be atop an abstracted cityscape. Curated by Dave Hickey this installation was in front of the Navy Pier, in Chicago, Illinois, from July-November 2011
"It's Not Nine One One" 2010; Neon on steel frame; 12'H x 16'W x 4"D; It's Not 911 was a Windowworks Exhibition at Artpace, San Antonio during 2010. Where “Homeland Security” dealt with the physical/legal boundries of the United States, “It’s Not Nine One One” deals with more psychological, introspective, and political ideas. It is a study of the idealogical state of our self proclaimed democracy. In our time we have seen this democracy transformed by the internet, reality TV, confrontational politics, radical extremist groups, and talk radio. Every group is screaming their agenda front and center. Things like working together for the greater good, compassion, compromise, empathy, and civil debate are out of the question. So I used the image of the country as viewed with the poles reversed, south up, north down. Viewing “It’s Not Nine One One” is like seeing the United States from outer space. It is like viewing it in a dream when you have left your body and are floating above the Earth. Viewed from space there is no up or down, no left or right (political pun intended). Viewed from this position the compassionate heart of America becomes a testicle sack where things are ruled by testastrone, hubris, and macho energy. Let me make this perfectly clear. This concept, this shape we call the United States was made by aliens, immigrants, and the descendants of these immigrants. It was made by designating certain natural features of the landscape, like the shorelines and certain rivers as borders. But at other points, it is merely a line imagined and laid across the landscape. It is a cartesian construct, an abstraction, laid between the southwestern states and Mexico, and the northwestern states and Canada. “It’s Not Nine One One”
"Black Jacket Moose" 2007; Mixed Media, leather, shoes, antlers, etc; 48"H x 44"W x 36"D; These animals are residents of our cityscapes and our psyche. They are "big game" animals, symbols of the natural uncontrollable landscape, the frontier. They are the true sublime, our subconscious, the dreamscape, the other. They are essential. They are dangerous. They are hilarious. They are gruesome. They are cute. They are trash. They are art.
Ken Little at the Hometown Artist's Rodeo 2008; For years I organized a Hometown Artist's Rodeo, first at the UTSA Sculpture building, for a while then, a monthly gig at The Cove, in San Antonio. It has been a sort of cabaret with music, performance art, occasional fire jugglers, crazy dentists, magic acts, and other strange, beautiful, and funny things. It was voted Best Public Art in San Antonio by the San Antonio Current readers in 2007. Look for the Youtube videos. I also play with a couple of bands: Ken Little and Rodeo Ho Ho and the Swingbillies. Look on the home page for upcoming Gigs. I am a songwriter and have one CD of original material titled Simple America available.
"Homeland Security" 2006, 2009, 2010; White painted picket fence; 32"H x 50'W x 35'D; Originally constructed in Griffner Austria, at the Griffnerhaus as part of the XYZ Art Symposium in 2006. It was later rebuilt and displayed in the Austin,Texas 9th Texas Biennial Exhibition outside the Long Center during 2009. And then again, at the Hemisfair Park in San Antonio during 2010 sponsored by Artpace San Antonio and Public Art for San Antonio (PASA). Look for the Youtube video at this link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJ9dtN8pmKw Homeland Security The outline image of the border of the continental United States is an American icon. It is a mixture of natural geological elements, like rivers and coastlines, combined with a cartesian construction of imagined lines strung across the landscape to separate political, ethnic, and idealogical groups. It is the legal demarcation of our boundries creating citizens, aliens, and immigrants (legal and illegal). Since September 11, 2001 we have been obsessed as a country with this imagined shell. We are in the process of trying to literally build this shell as an impenetrable fence, particularly along the US/Mexican Border. I decided to manifest this obsession by building the first version of “Homeland Security” in Griffner, Austria where I was invited for an outdoor exhibition in 2006. It is a simple garden fence, with no gates, that is meant to keep unwanted pests or aliens out of the garden. “Homeland Security” is a symbol of the American dream and the American nightmare. The second version of “Homeland Security” was commissioned by the Austin Art In Public Places Program as part of the Texas Biennial in 2008. That version was then installed at HemisFair Park here in San Antonio during 2010. It was visible from the street level at the intersection of South Alamo and Durango streets. It was also visible from the HemisFair Tower some 750 feet in the air above San Antonio. As I said, It is the American dream and the American nightmare. It is what we live with everyday.
"Pledge" 2002; $1 Bills on steel frame; 71"H x 31"W x 17"D; 2002; From 2001-2003, I made a series of $1 Bill suits in various poses, standing, pledging, flying, dying, etc. They were all over life size and were constructed with $1 bill skins over steel mesh armatures. They appeared to contain an invisible figure. However, all the functional and feeling parts of the occupant were obviously absent. There were no “guts”, no heart, no arms or legs, no head, no brain, and so forth. They couldn’t do anything. They couldn’t feel anything. These automaton suits symbolized the material world of possessions, commerce, law, politics, and so forth. Also, being absent their functional and feeling parts, the inner void begged the question of the emotional, spiritual, and intellectual nature of life.
"Pledge" 2002; Erased Charcoal Drawing; 30"H x 22"W; In the mid 1980's I started to make these erased charcoal drawings as studies for my sculptures. Erasing the charcoal is allot like carving. I could really start to visualize how to structure and stylize the forms I saw in my head.
"Father" 2001; $1 Bills on Steel frame; 50"H x 53"W x 75"D; 2001 This piece began as an investigation of my fathers world. James Dawson Little was a Navy seal. He was part of America’s “Greatest Generation” back from World War 2, returning to a normal life soaked in alcohol and the hubris of the American dream. As I finished “Father”, it became clear that it had many other connections: This is also a “political” head like that of: John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and/or George Bush It incorporates all the prominent features from the image or appearance of these talking heads but it is absent ALL the functional parts. There is no brain, no tongue, no eyes, and no neck or body. It is blown up, outsized and empty, like a cicada shell. It is either asleep and resting, or it is broken or decapitated. It has echoes of Brancusi’s Sleeping Muse, as well as echoeing all those large fragments of sculptures found in the courtyards and ruins of Rome. Then my own content or intent can be hijacked by history or current events, like American journalists who are beheaded by Taliban fighters on a live internet video feed. That was not a meaning I had in mind. By the way I really chose the title “Father” from my materials. The $1 bill has a picture of George Washington (father of our country) on it.
"Desire" 2001; Neon on steel frame; 43"H x 36"W x 4"D This piece grew from a series I started in 1995. It (they) reference the language we understand before we can speak. This pre-language communication is seen as a combination of hand gestures and facial expressions. A blue version of Desire was also one of the elements of a work called Wheel of Desire, from 1995.
"Dawn"1999 Cast Bronze; 39"H x 100"W x 36"D; Part of the permanent collection of the McNay Museum, San Antonio, Texas ; I wanted these works to be formally rigorous. I wanted to use the animal that wasn’t there, the void, as the sculptural form. It’s an armature really, over which I have improvised a three dimensional drawing in a structure very much akin to jazz. The pieces themselves have an extraordinary sense of memory, melancholy, and loss. And as much as they appear to be sculptures of animals, I see them as ruminations on the human condition and the dilemmas we face as adults.
Victory and Defeat, 1997; Cast Iron with sprayed copper coating; 27"H x 72"W x 35'D; Fabricated at a second Kohler Arts Industry Residency in 1997 This is a series of seven pairs of mask/feet completed during a residency at the Arts Industry program of the J.M. Kohler Art Center at the Kohler cast iron foundry in Kohler Wisconsin. The largest pair is 5 feet long and the smallest pair is 5 inches long. The entire piece is approximately 35 feet long. The work actually was conceived, as most of my works are through a process of meditation, dreaming, and other hard to explain intuitive practices. Once I began to think more consciously about the work I saw it as a reflection of how world history is made up of all the little accumulated personal histories as they interlock and overlap around the world. I think I used the image of feet since that is what we travel around the earth on making our little histories. I also liked the fact that they were made of iron, which came out of the earth, itself. I must have put a smiling face on one and a frowning face on the other to reflect the successes and failures of each generation? In the long run none of that may make any difference. It is a piece of sculpture that will stand on it's own. No pun intended.
"Soaring: the Rules of Engagement" 1995 ;Mixed Medias including , Paint, Steel, Neon, $1 Bills, Oil based Clay, etc.: Approximately 1600 Sq. ft. of space at Artpace, San Antonio, constructed as an installation. I was a resident in the Artpace International Artist's Residency during 1995. See Catalog
"Hare"; Bronze [edition of 25] 8"H x 5"W x 6"D; 1995 When my daughters were young, I used to take them to Seaworld here in San Antonio. We would go around and watch all the shows with the whales jumping in and out of the pools and so forth. then when we left we had to exit through the gift shop where they had lots of little stuffed whales for sale! So these small bronzes were my response to that. Small affordable bronze editions the reference everything the larger works do. See the Installation shots at the Forum for Contemporary Art in St. Louis during 1996. For a listing of available Bronze Editions see the link
"Ford" 1993 Cast Bronze, Aluminum Ladder, Neon, Dictionary pages (for the car, a 1950 Ford) over a steel frame ; 106"H x 76"W x 64"D The title, "Ford" actually refers to the noun and the verb. The dictionary shell of a car is hovering over a ladder which has made a partial transformation towards a building. The "Ford" made of a dictionary references the transformation that education can be in our lives. On the ladder/building are the words in neon: RUN SEE DICK (a reference to a first grade reader when I was in school). The bronze shoe coyote is leashed to the ladder and is learning to sit like a good boy and take his medicine and speak when spoken to.
“Mesa” 1988; Little's first public work commissioned in 1988 by the Seattle Arts Commission and installed in 1991 at the North entrance of the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Washington."Mesa" is a heavly carved cast bronze replica of an Old Forest Service Stye Picnic Table with attached benches; approximately 35"H x 72"W x 72"D; 1988-91
1988 was a busy year. I moved to San Antonio where he began a positon at the University of Texas at San Antonio. I was also a resident in the cast iron foundry of the Arts Industry Program at the Kohler Company, in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, there were major installations using these Kohler cast works at a number of venues including this one “The Elements of Progress: Dreams Escape (the Cross Section)” 1988; Washington Project for the Arts, Washington D.
The "sleep/TRAIN" subtitle comes from the neon sign in the middle of the picnic table that blinks off and on with the words "sleep" and "TRAIN" and "sleep" and "TRAIN" and "sleep" and "TRAIN" over and over and over. “sleep/TRAIN” is a life-sized picnic table fabricated from steel mesh on which set two large bronze masks of a deer and a bear, the herbivore and the carnivore. The "sleep/TRAIN Section" is part of the permanent collection of the Roswell Museum of Art, Roswell New Mexico. “Block” is a grouping of Bible houses floating in the air. They are made of the entire text of the King James Version of the Bible, (the red-letter edition).
“Bear” (1987) is typical of these early bronze works in which Little collaborated with Harry Geffert to fabricate.; Bronze, [edition of 10] 13"H x 15"W x 20"D; I think of these as “Masks” or “Helmets” rather than animal heads. The distinction is that they incorporate the prominent features of the animal’s appearance or anatomy, but they have been simplified, stylized, and animated. It is very obvious that they are hollow. Their historical influences and foundations are found in carved wooden Indian masks from the Northwest Coast of the United States, African figurative totems, Mexican folkart masks, Japanese Haniwa Tomb sculpture. Their more contemporary foundations come from the Walt Disney, Hanna Barbera, and Looney Tunes cartoon characters of my youth like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety Bird, Mickey Mouse, and Winnie the Pooh.
This series of erased charcoal drawing was an exploration of form prior to working in hard materials, like the steel armatures for the paper sculptures. “Doe-Bear” (1985) led Little to began working with Harry Geffert at Green Mountain foundry in Crowley Texas to learn to cast these forms in bronze; Erased Charcoal Drawing diptych; 30"H x 44"W
Little moved to Oklahoma in 1980. There he taught sculpture and began a series of shoe works that would take him away from ceramics. “Burn” (1985) is an example of one of these shoe works with the incorporation of paper shell forms (an upside down Corvette) made of dictionary pages and a small house over his left shoulder made from the pages of the book of Exodus from the Old Testament. “Burn” was actually made in New York, where Little lived from1985 to 1986; Mixed Media, Shoes, leather, other clothing, paint, dictionary and Bible pages over steel and paper frame; 72"H x 46"W x 26"D
Little was very in demand as a workshop teacher for ceramics. However his retecince to merely demonstate ceramic techniques, and his trust of a deeper intuitive source for art making led to performances like "Blossom" 1985, at the Kohler Art Center, in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Little conducted these ceramic "workshops" across the United States.
"Poke" 1982 From an initial experiment with shoes in "Boom" Little navigated towards this full blown potrait in "Poke" 1982; Shoes and Paint over paper and metal forms; 64"H x 52"W x 48"D; Visual patterning, repetition, and rhythms are all mechanisms I use to communicate sound and energy. I have worked directly to create a vibrant, pulsating image readable through your vision to the senses of sound and touch. Invention with and through material objects has been an important concern using the cultural/natural dialectic of: the “Material” (function, history, purpose, and worth) with “Ethereal” (expression, myth, magic, and ritual). These objects bring into tangible reality what, many times, may be an elusive, ethereal memory of feeling, something which has no form. These objects are at a critical stage in their cycle. They are about to be used up, finished, trash. Yet, they have a unique Identity and a sense of history, both personal (as the owner used it) and of another time (style/fashion). Taken as a whole the sculptures reveal this potential cathartic cycle - that is the world we live in.
With a couple of years of mixed media work under his belt, “Kinken” and”Joken” (1980) Little moved to Oklahoma in 1980. There he taught sculpture and began a series of shoe works that would take him away from ceramics; Mixed Media Including: Wood, Tire parts, bed clothes, extension cords, oil paints, mannequins, cups, clothing, rocks, etc.; "Kinken" (right) 78"H x 25"W x 36"D; "Joken" (left) 74"H x 24"W x 30"D
In 1974, after a move to Missoula Montana, to teach at the University of Montana with Rudy Autio, Little continued working in ceramics through the late 1970’s. “Boom” is a portrait of the Artist’s brother, who happens to be a world class jazz pianist. Works such as “Boom” (1979) incorporate oil painted ceramics and his first! use of shoes in the piano base; 72"H x 26"W x 30"D
“First Situation with Hay” 1974, I started this seris of "Situation" works about two years after I graduated from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. After Graduate school I moved to Tampa Florida and taught at the University of South Florida. "First Situatiob with Hay" is typical of his ceramic and mixed-media work from this period. ; Ceramics, Rope, and Hay; 61"H x 96"W x 46"D
"Caroline #56" 1969, Acrylic on canvas; 60"H x 48" W I was actyually a painting major for my BFA but fell in love with ceramics when I had to take all my other beginning classes as required for graduation.
"MailedPlate" 1972, 16"H x 28"W x 4"D My MFA Thesis at the University of Utah was a series of these plates that I bolted into these shipping crates and showed at the museum with the mailing labels and marks from transit. I was thinking about Art and life, at least in the marks they leave. There was a great cover article in Ceramics Monthly then, by Zena Holtz, that I am still trying to locate another copy of.
"Snowman" 1953, Tempra on paper; 12"H x 18"W A painting I did in my first grade class at Alice Landergin school , Amarillo, Texas. I have ended up using this image a few other times. See "Victory and Defeat" 1997 and "Blow Bunny" 1995.
My first rabbit!! I won it on a children's television show in Amarillo about 1954, throwing darts at balloons. Notice the minimalst landscaping style on the High Plains of the Texas Panhandle.