Henry Klimowicz, a sculptor based in Millerton, New York, has used cardboard exclusively in his work since 1986. He creates reliefs and three-dimensional pods, layered topographical studies, decorative wall hangings resembling outsize textiles, and organic forms summoning sea coral. There are discs which are six feet in diameter where the artist pummels, squishes, crimps and “beats up” the stiff paper.
And there are twenty-foot high curtains of woven cardboard that emit light. Klimowicz also makes surprisingly durable benches with decorative surface pattern. His signature material simultaneously poses limitations and advantages. Recently, to relieve the persistent uniformity of the cardboard, skeins of dried white glue and an infrastructure of wire supports were added to the list of artist’s materials. “The hot glue gun is the binder. It’s beginning to have a structural place in the work,” Klimowicz explained. “The use of the wire is critical sculpturally. My intent is to treat the wire with as much reverence as the cardboard,” he said.
Despite glue drips and a wire foundation, cardboard, with its earthy brown color and landfill aura, dominates. There is no guesswork on what each piece is made of; viewers are free to consider process and subject matter. Klimowicz pushes the material – the common, everyday corrugated stuff of packing boxes – as far as possible. The cardboard is as rugged as a supermarket packing container: printed product letters, small surface tears, even box creases are visible and celebrated on the surface or verso of Klimowicz’s pieces. The material’s past isn’t hidden or disguised, but reconfigured from grocery store castoff to sculpture. “I don’t buy any new cardboard,” the artist recently told a visitor to his show at the Morrison Gallery in Kent, Connecticut. He gathers his material, jettisoned by the local hardware store or saved for him by art collectors whose shipments are secured with cardboard. “There isn’t a shortage of cardboard in this world,” he acknowledged.
Klimowicz credits a great aunt, Molly Nye Tobey (1893 – 1984), who hooked rugs first as a student at the Rhode Island School of Design, as an influence on his work. “I have a fiber background in my DNA,” he described. “This was a part of my self and a part of my sense as an artist.” He shares the intensely repetitive process of hooking a rug, quilting, or creating a needlepoint so much that his process veers toward craft. Pointing to his projects, he smiled: “It’s part of being a real feminist craft artist.” Geographical distance from a major urban area and his base in Dutchess County has allowed the artist to keep bees. “There are definite references,” in his work to the beekeeper’s tasks. “I know what a drone cell and a honeycomb look like,” he described, alluding to forms in his sculpture.
But the artist is hesitant to make clear comparisons to visual clues in his work. “My work is minimal and abstract and derives from natural forms, but I am leery about setting the course any viewer would take with it. Describing his art, Klimowicz happily acknowledged the mundane character of his material: “Everything that is done is my personal uplift to it. It doesn’t come with a cultural weight or value. This has a lot of other side benefits. It’s a nonthreatening material.”