In Kirk Stoller’s elegant, spare sculptures, gravity often appears to have lost its familiar properties — or, perhaps, to have been temporarily suspended. This sense of contingency is the result of careful strategies deployed by the artist, who often uses the exhibition space as both support and backdrop, invisibly attaching pieces to the wall in such a way that they seem to lean casually / float weightlessly rather than cling or hang. None of the eight pieces pictured here, in fact, reveal a thing about how they stay together: from the cascading, waterfall-like configuration of four painted sticks of wood in untitled (fountain), connected by geriatric bits of metal lawn furniture, to the casual arrangement of nature and culture (driftwood and plywood) leaning against the wall in untitled (harp).
The animated liveliness of Stoller’s work, conferred partly by the way he manipulates materials, is also affected by a pitch-perfect use of a personal vocabulary of color: particular hues encompassing a kind of idiosyncratic mix of industrial greens and oranges, putty beiges and grays, with soft pastels. Many of these have biographical implications; yellow, for instance, recalls his childhood home, and often appears at the base or foundation of a work — the lowest of the four wooden elements of untitled (fountain), for example, or the stick that leans against the wall in untitled (harp), or the one that discreetly supports untitled (treble). In that house — on a farm outside of Portland, Oregon, where his mother still lives — his sister’s bedroom was pink: a color he recalls envying, wishing he could have it for his own room.
Still, such insider knowledge of this personal color language isn’t necessary for understanding or appreciation of Stollers sculpture. Similarly, despite the one-word descriptive elements in his titles — rainbow, harp, ledge — the pieces themselves are rigorously non-representational. For the artist, this adherence to abstraction comes out of a desire to make work broad enough for all viewers to be able to create their own unique relationships with each piece. Following this strategy has helped him to make pieces spare enough — like poetry, in a way — to talk softly and carry a big stick. Or, as in untitled (prong), to suspend the stick in midair, painted a vivid, lucent blue, on a rakishly-bent piece of wire.
Placing untitled (rainbow) high on the wall, Stoller alludes to the experience of passing beneath a bridge of colored light with which we are all familiar. At the same time, any narrative reading of the work is subdued by the deliberately non-rainbow colors that arch up and outwards from the worn piece of wood that serves as their base. When Stoller describes his work as a whole as site-specific, he defines this term to mean that his pieces are made with materials found in and around the places where he works and lives. Whether that is scraps scavenged from the woodshop at a residency or a random fragment of furniture or molding borrowed from the house where he grew up, these pieces of wood or metal sometimes move from one place to another — back and forth between his studios in San Francisco and New York, for instance — until they coalesce into a completed work.
Untitled (ledge) began as an accumulation of shaped scraps from the shop at his residency in early 2014 at Playa, in eastern Oregon. Partly assembled, it returned with him to California, where he added to it as time passed, devising the curved shell that perches on the edge of the pedestal plinth that he later made for it. Like Brâncuși’s pedestals, this one is conceived of as an integral part of the work. The precarious hover of the hollow form is perfectly counterbalanced by a slab of rusted steel, its top edge painted a vivid orange, that is attached to one side of the pedestal.
The patina of age and use that many of these elements confer on the pieces of which they are part is deliberate. Its purpose, however, is not merely auratic, but a declaration that this arrangement, elaborated with paint and hung, as if by magic, from the wall, is just a moment in the continuum of the life of the object. Like a dropped flag on a map, these sculptures reflect where Stoller is at the moment, collecting together experiences and memories into a kind of souvenir. Expressions of the force of gravity, they also embody the artist’s intervention, bringing materials together, joining their histories with his own in an uncertain yet warily optimistic present.
Rather than memento mori — reminders of the inevitability of death — these works are memento vivere: literally, exhortations to remember to live. With their bright palette and lanky grace, they are signals asserting that the artist is still here, still standing, still alive — and so are we.