Laura Shults and the Sculpted Sky
For Laura, art is process. In her Area 405 studio on
A sense of humor, too, is necessary for Laura, who thinks of her sculpture, the clouds and planes, as toy-like, even a bit silly. "They are actually kind of ridiculous objects," she says, of the planes. "They are about flight but they will never fly. They can't fly." This tension between function and form goes back to her college days as a furniture maker. Then, she was intrigued with the sculptural possibilities of chairs and tables, playing with biomorphic shapes and colorful pattern, but the necessity of standard measures, of providing sufficient leg room or platform height, didn't much interest her. "I wasn't into being a craftsperson. I wanted to be imaginative and make sculpture that came alive but that was also a chair."
The clouds Laura makes, armatures of reed covered in tracing paper or, more recently, foam carved with an electric steak knife, seem an ideal subject on which to let her imagination fix. Again, the process of finding the right material, manufactured reed or natural willow, furniture maker's foam or closed-cell plastic, and then of how to use it is central. But we can speculate perhaps that this approach, one that relies on process more than conceptualization—"I work mostly subconsciously," she says, "start working and figure out why later"—is particularly suited to the subject of clouds. In the course of trial and error, of working out her ideas through material experimentation, is the construction of these ephemeral, almost otherworldly, and always-shifting objects emblematic of the imaginative process itself?
The impulse behind her sculpture, then, is clarified, at least a bit, though the significance remains dusky. "Why do artists do anything?" Laura asks, and with some just cause. Were she to sculpt the figure—something she's never been interested in—would she be asked so often, as she is about her airplanes, Why, why people? "I don't like to think too much about it," Laura says. "You can end up stuck that way. There's a feeling I get when sculpting that lets me know it's working." She goes about her business, experimenting with wings, leafing through field guides to clouds, thinking about future projects with zeppelins and airships, and letting form, material, and fascination lead the way.