ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Born in meditation, the sculpture of Karen Yank encompasses the fullness in emptiness.
Creator of more than 35 public mixed-metal sculptures, many in Albuquerque, the local artist is completing a commission from the city of Boulder, Colorado, hinting at overlooks, retaining walls and pavement patterns as well as an historic train depot. A series of 16 4- to 7-feet-tall cross-emblazoned circles, they reflect transit themes of crossing, intersecting, joining and marking a point in time and space.
“The circle and cross are one of the earliest symbols seen in human cultural development dating back to the stone age,” Yank said from the dusty fabrication warehouse CMY, Inc. on Albuquerque’s Old Coors Road.
Designed for the Junction Place Bridge at Goose Creek, the sculptures will tumble across an abutment wall mimicking the movement of bicycles, cars and trains; spilling into the flowing patterns of the currents.
Yank’s was one of about half a dozen submissions for the project, said Alex May, transportation project manager for the city of Boulder.
“The proposal she gave seemed to be more creative,” he said in a telephone interview. “The sculptural aspects caught the eye of the (selection) panel.”
The desire to create three-dimensional work from metal sparked through Yank’s genes. Her father Paul Yank was a sculptor in Wisconsin; one of four children, she grew up in the art complex he created. She was reluctant to commit to art for fear of disappointing him if she changed her mind. She thought of becoming a lawyer, but college cemented her conviction to create.
“I think there was such relief that someone was going to follow him,” she said.
When Yank was younger, the ideas came to her in dreams. At the time, her work was busier, constructed of found objects with a touch of whimsy. Meeting the great Taos abstract expressionist Agnes Martin at a Maine art colony changed her life.
“She said, ‘You’re doing abstract emotional content like I am,'” Yank said.
It was Martin who taught her to envision her designs through meditation.
“That’s when the circles came to me,” Yank said. “I started making them and I didn’t tell her for a while. Mine are objects; steel is heavy, not like canvas.
“She loved them,” Yank continued. “She took me on as though I was her daughter. She had my daughter call her ‘grandma Agnes.’ When she saw them, she said, ‘You’ve hit your mature work.'”
After 9-11, Yank created a series of Xs and Os for a New York gallery as an embrace for a city in mourning. She drew them out; once they were finalized, she took them to CMY for fabrication, beginning with digital imagery. For the Boulder project, she created the series of Xs and Os, the circles swirled with a dark patina, the crosses or Xs left bare with the sterling sheen of customized galvanized steel.
“I want the illusion that they came off the wall and fell here,” she said. “When you get these outside, the silver looks incredible.”
She fusses over perceived imperfections like pebbling, sanding sharp corners, frowning at drips and oxidation. Some surfaces mirror the ripples of taffeta.
“When the sun is on it, you can’t see any imperfections,” she said. “I think they speak about the way the world needs to change. I think they do have this embrace. Kids are going to climb on them. Luckily, if you do a very nice piece, they won’t graffiti it.”
Yank shows her work at Santa Fe’s Zane Bennett Gallery. She is represented by public works at the Coors and Interstate 40 interchange, where she was the lead artist; the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, where she has five sculptures; the New Mexico Highway and Transportation Department; New Mexico State Library; New Mexico Junior College; New Mexico State University, Hurley Community Center, and in numerous private collections throughout the U.S. Works in permanent public collections include the New Mexico Museum of Art, the Albuquerque Museum, the New Mexico Capitol Art Collection, the University of New Mexico Hospital, Rutgers University, Sandia National Laboratories, Silver City Museum, Ozaukee Art Center and the University of Wisconsin.
Yank works from a studio in Golden, New Mexico.