A pair of old pliers. An emu egg. A grouping of branches. A doorknob. These are some of the elements that find their way into the mixed-media box constructions of artist Margo Klass, now on display at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center.
Rescued from roadsides and junk shops from Alaska to Maine, Klass' hand-picked collection of objects are given new life as elements of her elegant, evocative visual landscapes.
Klass, based in Fairbanks, said she usually recognizes - and relishes - the moment she has hit upon the right combination of pieces.
"The idea for any particular construction could start with a single piece, and then I add to it, I subtract from it," Klass said.
Klass' work at the JAHC gallery is accompanied by short prose pieces contributed by her husband, the writer Frank Soos. The show is up through Sunday.
Klass said she rarely searches out a particular object or even a specific shape when she's working on a project, as that deliberate approach seems to throw off her intuitive creative process.
"I try to keep a totally open door," she said. "In fact, if I do find myself needing something, it never works. It somehow blocks my mind. I have to allow the object to come forward."
She said she is drawn to objects first for their form, and is also inspired by the "patina of time" and the texture that creates. She said she is also drawn to things that don't immediately suggest their utilitarian purpose.
"If it's purpose is totally evident, I tend to step back and say, 'No,'" she said.
In rare cases, Klass fabricates elements of her pieces herself. For example, the egg-shaped ceramic shapes that span the top of "I Dreamed of Ships" are her creations.
"Usually they become found objects in their own way," she said.
Klass learned the art of book binding in her 30s, and still uses these techniques in creating the boxes that frame her current work. Other major influences include medieval altar pieces and the Japanese architect Tadao Ando.
"His work is all over what I do - the spareness of space, the quiet of it, and yet the strength. And he's very into light," she said.
Klass often uses skylight-type panels in her box frames that allow natural light to fall on elements of her work. Other pieces contain recessed, partially-hidden panels that viewers can't completely see.
The short prose pieces written by her husband, Soos, often deepen the mystery behind Klass' work, increasing the viewers level of engagement. In this show, his work is hung on small cards directly beside his wife's art.
Soos, a University of Alaska Fairbanks professor, has published two works of fiction, "Early Yet" and "Unified Field Theory," a book of essays and was the winner of the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction in 1997. He'd been living in Fairbanks for many years when the couple met during fellowships at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in 2002. He said he was immediately taken by her work.
"I think if I had not liked them as art, none of what followed would have happened," he said.
Not long after they met, before they were married, the pair discussed bringing their art forms together as an experiment.
"The idea surfaced as possibility and Frank said he was interested in trying a few, so we just started a very tentative experimental basis, and the more we did the more we found it working."
The couple had their first joint show in Washington, D.C. at the Dadian Gallery in 2004, and said they knew from their viewers' reactions and the time most spent looking at each piece that they were on to something. Since then, they've had eight additional shows together. They have also published a book of their work, "Double Moon: Constructions & Conversations."
Klass said she doesn't try to influence Soos' writing but that in some cases she'll tell him what she's thinking before he starts.
"If I have a particular narrative in mind I will tell him about what it is I'm getting after. My expectations are for him to simply honor that, not in the sense that he respond to my story in particular. His pieces are entirely his own."
One piece, called "I Have Two," touches on the subject of Klass' breast cancer, and Soos said not to honor that would have been "wrong." But usually, his pieces are a complete surprise, Klass said, and aren't revealed to her until Soos considers them done.
"I cannot imagine what he is going to come up with," she said.
Klass and Soos will be back with a show at the Alaska State Museum in 2012.
For more on Margo Klass and Frank Soos, visit /www.margoklass.com.
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