Artist returns to roots for Price Tower exhibit
Accomplished Bartlesville artist Kevin Box returns to his roots at the Price Tower Arts Center for the current “Origami in the Garden” exhibit, which debuted Jan. 26.
Box will have several pieces for sale in the Wright Place gift shop in the Price Tower and has generously offered a donation to the Price Tower a percentage of these sales.
Box grew up in Bartlesville and was first inspired with art through his experience at an art camp held at the Price Tower Arts Center. The Price Tower was happy to welcome Box home, and reached out to him to ask a few questions about his work and the exhibit:
What influence has Frank Lloyd Wright and the Price Tower had on your life? You often refer to the influence of “the tree that escaped the crowded forest.”
The Price Tower was my introduction to (Frank Lloyd Wright), his architecture, his philosophy and his influence that I encountered as I grew up and traveled. It was the first building that incorporated inspirational quotes as an important piece of the building, adding inspirational meaning to a structure that made me think of it as more than just a building. The Price Tower taught me about FLWs philosophy that a beautiful and functional building can inspire and transform the attitudes and productivity of occupants of the building.
I have forever been impressed and influenced by the Price Towers innovative live, work design that was very much ahead of its time. I love the asymmetry of that design and how it defined the exterior of the building. I think my work has so much angularity and geometric influence that I see reflected in the Price Tower.
I quote “The tree that escaped the crowded forest” because the building was originally designed for NYC and it ended up out in the prairies of Oklahoma. I stayed out in Oklahoma and I received scholarships to study in the city where I discovered how truly great FLW really was. Visiting the Guggenheim museum made me realize what a treasure the Price Tower was, especially when I learned about how the Tower was once for sale for a dollar and wealthy New Yorkers were speculating how they could helicopter the building back to NYC. Obviously that wasn’t feasible but is showed their buyers remorse for not having commissioned such a building themselves. But that idea of “a tree that escaped the crowded forest” is a reflection of how I have often felt as an artist. In Bartlesville I felt a little out of place with my artistic ambitions, that I didn’t fit. I went to New York and I felt out of place because I was from a little town in Oklahoma. So like the Price Tower, I am not sure where or if I belong.
What impact did the Price Tower Arts Center summer camp have on your endeavors in art?
I attended Arts Encounters at the (Bartlesville) community center next door for many summers. It was a wonderful program that encouraged my creativity. One year, I took a “life casting” class at the Price Tower with artist Willa Shalit who taught mold making techniques for capturing the human face.
How does it feel to be coming back to your hometown as an internationally known artist, and have your own exhibit in the building you so greatly admired ?
It’s a really special moment in my career, a full circle moment that has a life of sentimental meaning. I love the Price Tower like an old friend. I am so excited each time I visit and stay there. I am really humbled and welcome the opportunity to have a piece permanently located on the Price Tower grounds in the form of the “White Bison” collaboration I did with Dr. Robert J. Lang. It’s a really great origami masterwork that I got to make with a world renowned origami master. And it was our first collaboration together where I really felt like I had the creative freedom to make whatever my heart desired because I had one of the world’s greatest origami artists to help me realize it. When Robert asked me what I wanted to make in our first collaboration, I knew immediately that the White Buffalo was a symbol I had encountered growing up in Oklahoma that had meant a lot to me. … I can only hope it has a similar impact on Bartlesville and the community.
What motivated you to take the ancient art of Japanese folding paper (Origami), traditionally made with a fragile material, and translate the concept into art made with steel or bronze, a material of the ages? Did your mother’s career as an archivist for Phillip Petroleum Company inspire this work?
Indeed! My mom was one of the early historians at the Bartlesville Public Library and eventually founded the corporate archives at Phillips. I grew up in the library, learning about archives, historical documents and what it means to preserve them with archival processes from my mother. She bought me my first paper making kit and I blew out more than one blender grinding up everything from banana peels to blue jeans learning to make paper. My first sculpture professor was a paper maker and we spent a lot of time in the studio exploring how to make 2-D paper into 3-D sculptures. After completing art school I decided to give up working with paper because it was too fragile and I started studying bronze casting. I decided to experiment with the idea of making the most archival paper in the world by casting it into bronze and gave the first successful castings to my mom. She definitely inspired a lot about my approach to my work and the archival durability of a conversation in time. In order to take part in the dialogue of art history, the work has to last, it has to be durable. Cast bronze and stainless steel will be around for thousands of years, I can only hope the content of the work has enough meaning to carry on.
How did you arrive at this concept for “Origami in the Garden”?
“Origami in the Garden” was inspired by other large, outdoor sculpture exhibits I had seen around the country. Especially by an exhibit of the glass artist Chihuly and a Henry Moore exhibition I visited at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. OiG naturally emerged from a 10-year career of works originally created for private and public art collections. I had travelled my work around the country doing art fairs and gallery shows for years when my wife and business partner Jennifer and I realized we had the makings for a show of our own. I could not have done it without Jennifer, she and I created the show together, I built the work, she organized it along with the educational programming into a cohesive story worth telling.
The show at the Price Tower is a combination exhibit. A few larger pieces from the OiG outdoor exhibit are on display inside and out in the Bison, the “Hero’s Horse” or Pegasus. The rest of the show is called “Inside Out” and consists of an exhibition of original paper models folded by Lang that along with the crease patterns and unfolded wall hangings that display the inner complexity hidden within all origami models. For me this is such an important part of the story because origami in itself is full of metaphors.
We have all heard that beauty is only skin deep and that true beauty is on the inside, but what does that really mean or even look like? Well, if you look at an origami bird on the outside, you can see surface beauty but when you unfold it you can see an incredible and complex beauty that is on the inside. Most origami designs are also called crease patterns, these patterns look a lot like snowflakes or geometric mandalas when displayed. The exhibit unfolds a selection of origami designs to display this beauty and metaphor so the audience can appreciate the complexity and beauty of origami on the outside as well as inside. Thus, the title “Inside Out.”
How do you feel about the Bartlesville Visual Arts Commission trying to buy the buffalo currently displayed in from of the Price Tower to stay on a permanent basis? It is quite a tribute to Frank Lloyd Wright, Kevin Box and Robert Indiana!
I am thrilled that BVAC is in the final phases of fundraising to purchase the “White Bison” bronze sculpture for the PT campus. I think it is outstanding that the commission already has a generous matching grant and multiple donations towards adding the piece permanently to the community’s cultural collections. I am very grateful to become part of the Price Towers landmark campus!
For more information about the Price Tower, visit pricetower.org.
— Angelina Boungou, Price Tower Arts Center