Kooskia is uniformly ground overall to a wavy, bright finish. The field of random scrawls seen in this kind of grinder finish in stainless may be a remnant of Kelly's painting. In this kind of sculpture Kelly moved to the look that he maintains now, "very industrial, letting the warts show." It gleams bright and shiny, but expresses itself as a manufactured object, embodying engineering over artifice.
Kelly remains matter-of-fact about all of his work. "The doing of it is solving some problems that one comes up with. I'm very interested in the formal aspect of it. Still, it's loaded with other references, and the viewer can do whatever they want with it." However he allows, "I probably read more stuff into it." The stuff read into works of the 1980s finds roots in Asia. In 1979 Kelly visited Nepal. It was his first trip to Asia since his Air Force experience in Korea 25 years before. He went for the trekking in the mountains, but the culture he encountered had a profound effect.
Since 1979 he has visited Nepal almost. every year. By the mid-1980s, the effect of this travel could be found in his sculpture. And Kelly used his profession to connect with the people. Since 1982 Kelly has worked with bronze casters in Patan, near Katmandu. He takes wax pieces that he has made in his own studio over 10,000 miles to a small family run foundry because, "I enjoy it." His sculpture has allowed him access to the Nepalese community. In Patan there is a street of metalworkers. "At one point I lived for about three months in this neighborhood," he says. He enjoys having tea and casting. The foundry is usually involved in making parts for Buddha statues, but the foundry workers accept him and his abstract sculpture. "They're very respectful. They don't laugh at it. They don't ask why you did this or that," he says. He works with the foundry on almost every trip, and the bronze casting process has led Kelly into making a significant body of works in table-top size.
His preparation as a sculptor has allowed Kelly to visit Asia and soak it in, to make the experience a part of himself, to have his work embody his experience, to influence his way of thinking about form without forms being artificially imposed or tacked into his sculpture.
In 1993 Kelly visited Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia. His new huge works, Angkor I and II and Phi Mai, show the influence of visits to ruins of sandstone cities in the jungle. However, forms mean different things when they are purposely rendered new in stainless steel instead of being rounded from clean, cut stone by time and weather. These architecturally inspired works are made up of blocky forms chosen by poetic intellect for dramatic delectation. The romantic qualities in these and other recent works would probably been sneered at by a young true believer of 30 years ago. Even the grinding of the surface has taken new expressiveness. Where it was just a necessity in works like Stainless Garden, in these new works the grinder has produced large swirls which reflect light in a variety of ways. In bright sunlight this disembodies the sculpture as reflections produce three-dimensional illusion in the solid surface of the stainless.
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