Spacing out

Anchorage artist fills KPC exhibit with installation

Posted: Thursday, September 06, 2007

Anchorage visual artist Don Mohr has made an impact in Kenai.

Who, what, where, when ...

The "Sounds of Bells" exhibit by Anchorage artist Don Mohr is on display in the Kenai Peninsula College Gary Freeburg Gallery through Sept. 21.

The gallery is open from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday.

On Sunday, the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center's exhibit "Sticks and Stones" will close. Mohr curated the show, choosing artists from across the state and providing a theme to which the artists would respond.

Mohr's own work is on exhibit at the Kenai Peninsula College Gary Freeburg Gallery. "Sounds of Bells" is on display until Sept. 21.

As curator for "Sticks and Stones," the visitors center tasked Mohr with the challenge of gathering artists for an exhibit that expressed an Alaska point of view.

"The typical tourist view of what constitutes Alaskan art really doesn't appeal much to me," Mohr said. "The International Gallery is, I like to think, kind of in the forefront of a move beyond typical Alaskan art. Just, personally, I live in Alaska, but I don't think about myself really as an Alaskan artist. I feel much closer to other kinds of urban art, than Alaskan art.

"That really is where that theme came from 'Sticks and Stones' trying to get artists to think about things other than typical Alaskan art while making it a show about Alaska."

In the case of his solo show at KPC, Mohr had an open field for the work he wanted to present. Gary Freeburg Gallery coordinator and Assistant Professor of Art Celia Anderson invited Mohr, co-director of Anchorage's International Gallery and a professor of history at the University of Alaska Anchorage, to show and left him to determine his direction.

"That's pretty much the way we like to operate at the International Gallery. We pick artists that we have confidence in, and then try to leave them as free as possible to do whatever they want to do. They didn't suggest anything to me, they gave me the venue, they gave me the opportunity," he said.

Mohr has shown work at KPC in the past. He did an installation in the gallery and appreciates the space for its transformative capacity.

"I like the size of it, the shape of it. It's really a great space to exhibit in," he said of the KPC gallery.

"I really made my reputation as an artist here doing a lot of installation work. Installation work is pretty specialized. You try to transform a certain space into an art object. Even though I don't consider the work there to be an installation, that's really the way I approached it. I wanted to fit work into that space the best way that I could.

"In terms of what I decided to put in there, I've been fairly recently trying to experiment with industrial printing. Those photographs that are on the walls in the gallery, the larger works, are all produced on a machine that really exists to serve industry, not artists," he said.

Mohr worked with a company in Anchorage that usually produces blueprints for the construction industry. The machine that printed these pieces works with paper that is three feet wide and comes in rolls up to 300 feet long. He credits happy accident and experimentation with the development of the technique he used to print the work in "Sound of Bells."

"I went looking for the possibility of making an 80-foot long photograph, and so I went to these people, because it's a business that I drive by all the time, and they weren't able to produce what I wanted. But in talking to them, I had the idea that they could produce something of value to me. And so I went back and tried several experiments along the way," he said.

The exhibit is a combination of work created specifically for the gallery and previously shown works. One of the elements of his work, whether installation, photography or found-object sculptures, is that things must fit together, and in the space in which they are shown.

"This doesn't necessarily meet the definition of what I would consider installation, but it's like ingrained in my mind. I can't get away from it. I have the urge to fill the space, to create work that's specific to the space that I'm in," he said.

"I try not to think too much about my artwork. I try to kind of feel my way to it, without too much rationalization. And it just seems right to me somehow. That's just a part of my aesthetic."

For Mohr, photography offers a challenge to his customary approach, feeling his way to the work.

"In some ways, photography is the reverse of what I've been doing for a long time, because with photography I find that I have to visualize things first and then make them happen rather than the other way around. So I find photography fascinating, because it forces more order on me.

"And Photoshop is great. I use Photoshop all the time, but the real trick with photography is to get the picture right in the camera. You don't have to try to fix it. But that takes what for me is a great deal of effort," he said.

Mohr challenges his audience to meet the work in its space and to discover it for themselves.

"I usually don't think of myself as directing. I think of directing the viewer's attention, and I try to do that through the work itself. The reason actually that there's no artist statement there, is I really don't like artist statements in general. I think either the work speaks for itself, or you've failed. If you rely on explanation, you certainly have failed.

"I've become comfortable with the idea that some people get something out of my work and some people don't, and by making the work I've done the best I can."

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