Thursday, January 29, 2009

Philip Krohn

Philip Krohn, Split Rail, 2007
cardboard salvaged from waste

Replying to a Craigslist ad changed the way I make art. It was over a year and a half ago, when I first started as Philip Krohn’s studio assistant, a sculptor/painter in Oakland, California. The ad was for temporary help cutting cardboard for a sculpture. At the time I was in art school and was (and still am) looking for artists to assist. I was intrigued. How would anyone make a good looking sculpture out of cardboard?

Philip’s background is in carpentry and painting, making his installations well crafted with beautiful surfaces. Besides being a delight to work for, he is interesting, resourceful and highly creative. For the first entire cardboard project I didn’t understand his art at all. I could respect the amount of labor and craftsmanship that went into it. I loved that the cardboard was recycled, lightweight, interchangeable and nontoxic. It wasn’t until I saw the various stacking patterns that Philip created, that I loved the sculptures. I'd look forward going to his studio to see what new pattern he tried.

The temporary job turned into an afternoon a week. After cutting 100s of the cardboard Toblerones, I helped with lots of projects such as making paper mache Rox™, cutting bicycle inner tubes and drilling holes in plastic caps. I was fortunate to help with two of his public installations.

Hearing Philip’s thought process on how to create abstract installations showed me another way to think, such as using materials that businesses throw away. This keeps the recycling cycle going and lowers the cost of making art. From bike shops he asked them to save the flat inner tubes and from fly-fishing stores to put aside the old fly-fishing lines. This helps out the businesses too, since it is sometimes too expensive for them to recycle.

Seeing that art can be made from anything put me in a quandary. What should I make first? I’ve come to understand it that any material can be made into art, but it may not be art on its own. There are still lots of decisions by the artist that influence the success or failure of a sculpture. Take the cardboard project for example. Philip experimented what could be done with a sheet of cardboard. Then tried different lengths of the cardboard prism and angle; some were curved but most were straight. He played around with color on the surfaces by silk screening and some had iridescent slip covers. Various stacking patterns and heights were explored and groupings of the towers. All of these elements either added or detracted from the installation and it was up to Philip to carefully see which ones worked.

Philip is a self-proclaimed studio junkie who works persistently and constantly. His work ethic is so strong that it pushes me to work my studio. Besides making art, he created the earthsticker. Net proceeds from sticker sales support the non profit organizations working to protect biodiversity and wilderness listed at The design is also on things like t-shirts and canvas tote bags.

Last month I moved away from the San Francisco bay area, so I couldn’t continue helping Philip in the studio. I live vicariously through his website and look at photos of his newest work.

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