Step on Nathan Craven’s art

The artist’s eyes flicked back and forth between the three or four people trampling all over his masterpiece, his frown idle as bare feet swept across the jigsaw of glazed multi-coloured brick. He broke into a smile as two small children began to crawl across his “Construct,” a sprawling floor installation Nathan Craven, with the aid of gallery curator Kirsten Furlong, has brought to Boise. “Construct” is the first of two new exhibitions which opened on Friday and are curated by Boise State’s Visual Arts Center.

Craven’s medium is unique, both in its approach to breaking down rules about interacting with art and in its construction and process. The main piece, laid out on the floor of Gallery One inside the Liberal Arts Building, consists of more than 14,000 pieces of brick, of which over 100 are unique shapes (including a singular alien head). The exhibition also contains four other pieces of Craven’s work.

It is the main piece that grabs most attention, however. Complex shapes, cartoon font words and glazed and unglazed composite brick tiles make up the piece which is a few meters wide. It is also a progression of color from the dull, sandy yellows and ochre reds to a mix of glazed greens and deep blues.

“The material itself is plain brick clay, but the way he uses colors and glazes creates something really interesting,” said senior illustration major Annie Martin.

Interacting with Craven’s work can be a frightening experience at first.

“I don’t want to break it,” a student said as she observed the sign instructing patrons to step onto the
brick floor.

“You could drive a truck over it, don’t worry,” Craven replied, taking pictures and a lot of enjoyment from the barriers his art breaks down.

“The general public is usually forbidden from coming near art, you don’t get close to it and certainly don’t touch it,” Craven said, highlighting the history of ceramics and its use to create bowls and cups as well as tools. “It’s appropriate that people walk on it, touch and experience it.”

With Craven’s work, the viewer becomes a part of the art itself.

“It’s very unique, taking your shoe’s off and walking on them is a really cool experience,” said Brandi Holaday, senior visual arts major.

Craven described coming up with the idea and process behind the work as, “one of those rare moments, Aha!, where a light blinked on.”

Fine-tuning the process took about five years.

The process itself seems simple. Craven designs a stencil which is transferred via welding to form a metal shape. Fitting the shape on a large press, Craven is able to squeeze a ceramic mix through a press forming a long shaft in the shape he desires. Think about how a piping bag works and you have the idea, just at a far larger scale.

The long designs are dried, cut and fired in a kiln to harden. While simple, it is not an easy process and it takes
its toll.

“It’s a physically laborious, mentally draining process,” Craven said.

In the last year of intense work, Craven has created three pieces, stretching his will and finding his limits. Craven said his relief comes from his wife, young son and daughter who sometimes help out.

A second VAC exhibition, “Impressions,” is located at Gallery Two in the Hemingway Western Studies Building which is adjacent to The Liberal Arts building.

Kirsten Furlong, who has been working with Boise State for 12 years, curated both shows. Furlong has headed up the Visual Arts gallery for eight years and has worked hard over the last couple of years to bring new and interesting art to Boise.

“We have four to seven shows throughout the year with a lot of people from the campus and quite a few members of the public,”
Furlong said.

“Impressions” is a collection of world famous contemporary prints on loan from Northwest Nazarene University. The exhibition is a mix of styles from the print genre including lithographs, photogravure pieces and hand coloring amongst others. There are 31 prints in total from over eight different artists such as Elizabeth Murray, a famous American print maker who recently passed away. Many “Impressions” artists have other pieces on display in famous museums around
the world.

While Boise State may not be the first place you would expect to find world famous works of art, having the opportunity is a boon for the school and the city.

“It’s a really good opportunity to see works of art in person,” said Janice Neri, an associate professor of art history. “You can see the scale, size and the physical quality of
the work.”

Both exhibitions run through late October and are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday and closed on weekends.

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About the author  ⁄ jackmuirhead

jackmuirhead

Australian Exchange Student taking a semester abroad to explore the greater United States and study at BSU.