By Norm Powers, Bold Life Magazine
When Kyle Van Lusk was a small boy growing up in Little River, just east of Brevard, his parents took note of their son’s favorite pastime.
“My family lived on a plot of land with a few wooded acres, so I spent quite a bit of my childhood in the woods,” Lusk remembers. “I made various structures from branches or rocks, and moved dirt around to change the course of a small brook that would occasionally run down the mountain.”
Although neither of his parents were artists, their encouragement of his creative talent was his earliest support — and the bedrock of a career that’s produced sculptural pieces considerably larger than those boyhood constructions.
The scale of Lusk’s work ranges from smaller pieces incorporating cast bronze, iron, steel, or marble, to much larger works such as the circular “Celestial Earth,” a monumental, keyhole-shaped creation he made for the Tri-State Sculptors Conference. (It’s now in a private collection.)
Students at Brevard College, where Lusk is Associate Professor of Art, are familiar with his 16-foot tall “A New Hammer For Ian” — created for his youngest son from Cor-Ten steel — that stands outside the college’s Sims Art building. (Also among Lusk’s larger works is “Julia’s Blue,” named for his daughter, and, for his older son, “Declan’s Keystone.”)
His work, both large- and small-scale, uses familiar shapes from everyday life — tools, balls, keyholes, even clothespins — and endows them with a totemic aura, like ancient artifacts recently unearthed. The pieces are also noted for the use of wood and stone along with metal. Lusk’s introductory college courses dedicate considerable time to the study of medium and method.
“I firmly believe that artists must understand the material and the process, as well as form. Otherwise, they’re prone to making work in which that relationship is unconvincing,” Lusk explains.
Sculpture wasn’t his own first interest, though. “I made it all the way through high school with little to no exposure to sculpture, so when I started taking art courses at Brevard College in 1989, I intended on developing my drawing and painting,” he remembers. But his focus changed with his first sculpture class, taught by the late Tim Murray, who developed the college’s art program.
“It was really the first time I had been exposed to artists such as Henry Moore and Isamu Noguchi, and I was drawn to the physical nature of the various sculptural processes, and the beauty and transformative nature of materials like wood and stone,” he says.
Lusk’s expertise in that most traditional and basic sculptor’s skill, carving — what he calls “the subtractive process” — plays a large role in meeting his creative instincts. It’s evident in his “Genesis” series of smaller-scale pieces fashioned from metal, wood, and carved stone.
“When I was an art student, I was determined to learn as many creative processes and work with as many different materials as possible, because I didn’t want to feel limited creatively,” Lusk says. The “Genesis” works feature finely carved and polished stone forms, cradled in metal that’s shaped into spindly, Giacometti-like legs.
Carving plays a role in larger pieces, too. They begin as drawings and progress to maquettes carved in Styrofoam or wood before molds are formed for casting. “Part of me would love to carve a full-scale pattern from foam and cast those works, but fabricating steel plate into hollow forms is just much more practical for me whenever my works get larger than human scale,” the artist explains.
Many of his creations are considerably larger indeed. In addition to the 16-foot-tall hammer on the college grounds, there’s the piece that was commissioned by the city of Chattanooga for a public park, made of three 12-foot forms in weathered steel. Another piece, named “Fallen,” looks like a huge, deconstructed child’s spinning top that’s fractured and buried itself in the dirt.
Lusk estimates that only about ten percent of his work is commissioned — but it’s those pieces that provide the challenge of incorporating a specific setting into the design process. “I love responding to the site in that way, and I’m always looking for those opportunities,” he says, “although I enjoy the amount of experimentation that comes with self-directed work.
“My parents would always tell me that my talent was a gift, and that it was my duty to use that gift. They didn’t seem to have any doubt that I would make art my career. So I never had much doubt, either.”