Instead, the Philadelphia artist is atop an aerial lift in the atrium of the new Owens Community College Center for Fine and Performing Arts, connecting a system of super-strong, tensile stainless-steel cables to steel framework that will support his latest work of art.
When he is finished, as he was expected to be by last night's gala opening of the $11 million center, “Owens Rings,” a series of six metal rings lined with glass, will be suspended in the building space that college officials are calling the rotunda. Rimmed by a semi-circular stairway, the 43-foot atrium will become the venue for a daily light show as the rings catch the sunlight and project it into the entire space.
The result, King says, will be “a changing environment that's kind of bigger than the piece.”
An artist who formerly worked in stained glass, King became fascinated with light and its interplay with glass while doing projects employing prisms and projected light more than 20 years ago.
He learned how to use sun charts to track the sun and understand the angles of sunlight at different times of day. “Then in the '90s, along came computer-model software and more powerful computers ... It really helped me in the visualization for studying light, creating something dimensional or properly sized within space, and being able to show it or move it around.”
Now, he is best known for pieces like “Philadelphia Beacons (four)” an installation made up of four 42-foot towers of glass, stainless steel, and granite that refract light during the day and are luminous at night, and “ChromOculus,” a vertical, freestanding lens on a piazza in northern Italy.
Among his works in progress are a walkway at a rail station in Hoboken, N.J., that will incorporate 8,000 cylinders of glass, each with a thin film inside that will give them a colored and luminous effect.
Before creating “Owens Rings,” King presented three concepts to the committee charged with deciding on a piece of artwork for the building. The state's “Percent for Art” program allocates 1 percent of the total construction appropriation for art. The budget for the Owens artwork was $153,419; of that, $142,000 went to the artist. The rest covered administrative costs.
Brian Paskvan, executive assistant to the school's president, said the seven committee members knew they wanted something in glass to reflect the region's historical connection to the glass industry. They found King with the help of Irene Finck, coordinator of the Percent for Art program.
King said the process of choosing a design took two meetings. “I met with the committee and talked about some ideas after seeing the space. Then I came back and used a 3-D digital model. From that, I used the latitude-longitude for Toledo. I could look at the sunlight and how it comes into the building, where the sun and shadows occur.” He then created sculptures to be placed so that they could capture and reflect the light.
Fashioning art under the direction of a committee did not present a conflict for King, he said. “Everybody on this one was interested in the idea of creating something wonderful for the college. We just talked constructively about different ideas. I showed them slides of the work I had done and we talked about those projects. They gave me indications of pieces they really liked.”
When the time came to install “Owens Rings,” King transported the giant segmented rings here himself, along with a load of aluminum scaffolding, using his own Chevy pickup and a Ryder rental truck.
Once on site, he arranged for delivery of an aerial lift and laid plywood on the floor so he could maneuver about the carpeted surface easily as he drilled holes and made other preparations for hanging his sculpture.
“It's all high-reach stuff and I do it all myself ... There's somebody helping me on the ground, but all the elements are things I'm familiar with and know what to do.”
King, who recently climbed to the top of a 55-foot scaffold to hang a pair of 42-foot suspended pieces in a medical research building at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey, said he is largely self-taught when it comes to the skills he needs for installations.
“I have built a lot of things and each project you build informs you for the next one. I seem to have a knack for interacting with construction methodology. It's hard to get formal training in this area. It's kind of my own concepts.”
Although most of his work is for public art, King does do private commissions like the eight-foot curvilinear walls made of strips of laminated glass that he created recently for the bathroom of a home on the New Jersey seashore.
For his public works, he favors doing permanently installed projects on college campuses. “They're communities where people are thinking and learning. Intelligent people are involved in the process and they understand my work.”
While King was installing “Owens Rings” earlier this week, other artists were at work nearby in the center's Terhune Gallery, preparing for the gallery's opening exhibition, “Bringing the Arts Alive,” which will remain on view through Sept. 12.
All the pieces in the show, except “Off the Wall” by Toledo artists Carol Imes Luscombe and Constandena Mandros, are interactive, said Wynn Perry, gallery director.
Most prominent among them in terms of space is “Experiential Extremism,” a collaborative multimedia piece by two Bowling Green State University faculty members that is occupying a fourth to a third of the gallery.
The piece was commissioned by the International Computer Music Association and will be presented at the group's conference in Singapore Sept. 29-Oct. 4.
Dr. Elainie Lillios, a composer and assistant professor of music composition who worked on the project with Bonnie Mitchell, assistant professor of art, said the piece is an abstraction of extremism in today's society that will give people an intense experience, incorporating sound and visual images.
Lillios said sensors implanted in the work, which employs three computers, two projectors, eight speakers, and six mobiles, will cause it to shift over time so that everyone who walks through it has a different experience.
The inaugural Owens exhibition also includes two works by Los Angeles artist Barbara Lee Furbush, “Why Would YOU Kill?” and “Who Am I? Where Am I?” In the first piece, viewers write their answers to the question on a figurative target imposed on reflective glass. In the second, they draw their own self-portraits.
Other works in the show are “Doors to the East,” by Toledo artist Renee Spillis, a box of secret spaces that can be explored; “Endgame Apparatus” by Carl L. Porreca of Toledo, an oversized chess board made of found objects and wood, and “Connections,” by Mitchell, in which the audience blends and changes a collage of images in response to touches on a computer screen.
Perry said the gallery will be a venue for work by students, faculty, and community members, and also will exhibit national shows. Viewing hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and during performances in the center's theater.