FIRST Place – ALTERNATIVE METALS/Materials
Seattle-based studio artist, metalsmith and educator Kirk Lang creates both wearable and sculptural works out of gold, titanium and niobium among other materials. His cutting-edge designs use cutting-edge materials and are all inspired by his insatiable passion for astronomy. His work is housed in public and private collections, is exhibited nationally in galleries and museums, and appears in numerous books and publications.
Where did you get the title?
The name, “Eclipsim Series,” is Latin-based. It is a scientific convention and relates to astronomy.
What was your inspiration?
It came from a trip I took to the Stanley Basin in Idaho for the total eclipse of the sun. I spend a lot of my time with my telescope in my backyard looking at planets. I brought my camera and telescope so I could take photos of the eclipse. A lot of the elements to the experience were indescribable.
It was incredible, one of those unforgettable, moving experiences that you remember forever. It was so humbling because it makes you realize how small we all are, yet it is somehow both extremely intense and peaceful at the same time. Given the size ratio of the sun and moon, having them appear to be the same size was amazing.
What obstacles did you have to overcome in making this piece?
These pieces just came together. They flowed right out of me, which makes it more powerful for me. They were really fun to make. One of the more enjoyable sets I have made.
Will these pieces inspire other pieces?
I am sure in some way they will. All of the work I make, in some way, is part of a continuum.
What did you feel when you heard?
Pure joy! It was really exciting. I remember reading the email that stated when judging would start, so I assumed I hadn’t won. And then I heard.
Who did you tell first about winning?
I told my wife. She is the only person that knows. It was also about the same time my first son was born. To say a lot was happening is an understatement!
Have you won other awards/honors? If so, what?
I was awarded an Artist Trust Fellowship, Artist Trust GAP Grant, and a 4Culture Individual Project Grant. In 2014. I had a solo exhibition at the National Ornamental Metal Museum in Memphis, TN, and in 2016 I was selected to participate in the Bellevue Arts Museum Biennial titled Metalmorphosis. I will also be in another upcoming show at the Metal Museum this summer titled 40 under 40: The Next Generation of American Metal Artists.
Name three fun facts about yourself.
I ride a skateboard. I’m into astrophotography. I’m a new dad!
Of all the arts and crafts why did you choose jewelry?
I think for me it was simply metal as a material. I was in high school studying in the fine arts program when a friend who was taking a jewelry-making class asked if I would be interested in trying it out. I went down to the jewelry studio during my lunch break/free period and just fell in love with it. I could bend it and it would stay put. That drew me in. I made a ring in sterling and from that point forward, I quit eating lunch and headed down to the art studios to make jewelry.
In such a competitive industry, what do you credit your longevity to?
I just really love what I do and working with metal. It is about the material itself. I love the scale of jewelry, so it is a natural fit. I am a curious person. I am always experimenting with new metals and materials and discovering new ways to work with them. It keeps it exciting and fresh to explore new ideas, which is motivating to me.
Do you have any advice for those starting out in the jewelry world?
Work hard. Focus. Patience.
What artist, dead or alive, do you most admire? Why?
In terms of jewelry, I can remember being really drawn to John Paul Miller’s work early on. He had a pretty big presence in Cleveland, where I grew up. I really admired the subtle and cohesive beauty in his work but also the technical mastery of it. In regards to sculpture, the playful and poetic beauty of Arthur Ganson’s gestural machines are wonderful.
Outside of visual art, the ambient music of Brian Eno is incredible and inspiring. He is somehow able to transform sound into experience.
What is one of your favorite quotes in either business or art?
"Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it." – Henry David Thoreau
What do you want people to know about you and your art?
The meditative experience I have when looking at the night sky and witnessing celestial events, I strive to translate that into my work.
What was the biggest challenge you have faced in your business?
It comes back to balance. There are times when everything bottlenecks and there is so much to deal with. I work at managing a schedule that is more consistent time-wise so I can space things as they come.
Why do you think you have been successful?
Maybe it is a combination of tenacity, hard work, just staying engaged and excited about what you are doing. Making sure you are feeling all those things when you walk into your studio. There are projects I have done that I didn’t enjoy. I try not to do those things anymore.
How have you learned about running a business?
I am learning as I go. If you are doing something you love, I think the pieces of the puzzle will fall into place. The opportunities will come to you. Continuing to do things that inspire you and you are excited about is very important. It was how I was able to go off on my own.
Who has been most supportive in helping your business grow?
My wife definitely is the one who has supported me the most. We met in art school, so she “gets” the artist lifestyle. She has been super supportive of me and my choices.
What is your favorite tool?
I have a few of those. The microscope at my bench which was so important with my Saul Bell entry and my PUK Micro-TIG welder.
Is the product or the process more important to you?
Process for sure. I honestly don’t always know what the product will be when I start out.
What is your favorite type/piece of jewelry?
Brooches because they are more sculptural. I also love rings.
Describe your studio.
It is a separate space. It is technically a part of my house but with its own entrance. This is our first home, and when we were looking for a home, studio space was very important. There was a two-car garage and one side had already been sealed off and separate, which is the “clean” space and where I spend most of my time: Skylight, bathroom, picnic table in the back, windows and vaulted ceiling. The other side of the garage is my “dirty” space where I do more general metalworking processes.
Interview by Marlene Richey