Looking at Kyle Fokken’s artwork evokes for me the term “mash-up” – in other words, bringing together two disparate things to create a new whole (the cast of Glee does it all the time with songs).
When I told Fokken this, he laughed and said perhaps “smash-up” would be a better term. Fokken calls his work “3-D collages,” combining things like churches and airplanes into one single other-wordly creation. It’s something he’s been doing for a long time.
As a kid, I didn’t have very much money to purchase new model kits and would often times get destroyed or thrown away ones made by other kids. I decided that I really liked the dioramas and the ‘distressed’ look that was popular among professional modelers. I learned their technique of using found objects to mimic elements that were part of the planes, but not part of the kits.
Planes, machinery, churches, dogs and wooden clogs are all recurring images in Fokken’s work. Fokken says he’s drawn to collage because it allows him to work with a
bigger visual pallet. He says when he combines objects he creates – and learns – something new.
I refer to making pieces along a series akin to choking off the end of a garden hose in a manner that increases the force and direction of the stream. Series are a way of focusing the mind and the work. The dog form to me deals with the idea of potential. Since there are so many variety of dogs out there, I use it as a metaphor for the potential of a child growing into adulthood. I added the “klompen” (dutch for wooden shoe) after finding out more about my German/Dutch (Friesian) heritage and taking a visit there. I like the idea that it’s silly looking and very humble – a peasant’s shoe in the low countries. It’s also the “sabot” in “saboteur” or a “clog” in more plain English which I think is intriguing. Maybe I’m here to “sabotage” the conventional thinking of mixed media sculpture – who knows?
Fokken says his interest in churches comes from his own small-town upbringing; he sees run-down country churches as symbols of the loss of American culture.
Once Fokken has come up with a new form, he pays strict attention to both the skeleton and skin of it, making sure that it looks as real as possible from the point of structural engineering.
Every piece I’ve made has an internal “logic” to it. Things that are low slung look “fast”. Upright things may be slow or have a vertical function like a helicopter. I want people to also look at nature in my work since I study it to see how things function together and how the natural world has dealt with the problem. This is actually how many scientists and engineers are making new strides in military and civilian aviation.
People have associated Fokken’s work with the “Steampunk” movement, but he says that would be a mistake by definition, since many of his creations deal with piston machinery. But like Steampunk creations, Fokken’s pieces are filled with nostalgia, at the same time as they evoke worlds never seen. Fokken thinks of his work as “retro-futurist.”
I draw a lot of my inspiration from the Art Deco movement and Popular Science/Mechanics of that era; there’s all this wonder at what the future will hold – which happens to be now… and it doesn’t look anything like they imagined.
You can see Fokken’s retro-futurist “smash-ups” on display at his alma mater, Saint Cloud State University, in the Atwood Gallery.
All images courtesy of the artist.