Opposites Attract with Metalsmith Krysti Lehew: An interview by Lauren Lerwick

Krysti Lehew is a metals major at Texas State University who is graduating this fall. Her thesis show is up now in Gallery I, consisting of three large installations that are a combination of various metals and LED light sculptures.

L: To begin, I’d like to talk a little bit about your background and how it lead you to become a metals student at Texas State?

K: In addition to my art degree, I have a background in both psychology and engineering. While I was finishing my psychology degree a few years ago, I took art classes on the side for an art minor. Artistry runs in my family; My sister and mom are both artists, but never saw it through and do not pursue it full time. I used to work with steel and fabrication when I was in the military, so metals was something I’d done before and felt comfortable with. I’m also interested in painting and photography, but have always felt like metal was my calling.

L: Overall, how long would you say you’ve been working with metals?

K: I started welding and building when I was thirteen. While other girls were playing with dolls, I was playing with torches, but it was more industrial than artistic in the beginning. As far as working with the medium creatively, I’d say since I was eighteen when I joined the military to get out of college because I initially hated the idea of going to more school.

L: What is it about metal that you enjoy working with more than any of the other mediums you have worked in, such as painting and photography?

K: Metal is unique. It’s one of the few processes that you have to heat up to make soft, only for it to become hard again, which makes no sense does it? Most things are destroyed by heat, but I find it interesting how heat can also be used to create. So, that aspect of fire to both destroy and create – to meld and forge and take away – is a very interesting process I find both invigorating and calming. It’s a synergy thing. It also reminds me of the olden days when ancient civilizations used these materials to create sculptures, objects, and jewelry. It’s the idea of bringing back a lost art.

L: Is there a type of metal you prefer over the others, or do you enjoy them all?

K: I tend to use a lot of different types of metals. If I had to have a preference, I like steel a lot because of the fact that it is so cheap and easy to use. At the same time, it’s very structured and rigid, yet forgiving. However, I also like silver because it is so precious and soft, and brings a more pretty and elegant aspect into the work.

L: I’d like to talk a little bit more about your specific body of work that you made for your thesis. I noticed you used a variety of mediums and I’m curious what made you decide to have more of a diverse show than just traditional metal?

K: I’ve never been a fan of sticking with one thing, thinking that you have to conform to one area of specialization. I like to push the boundary and ask how I can combine five different objects, and figure out how or if that’s going to work. For instance with this show, I questioned how can I harness light? You can’t solder steel and metal, or can you? How can I defeat the laws of physics to create something new? That s why one of my starting points with most of this work is I feel like you have to embrace the medium, but also think outside the box. Thats why I pushed towards this diverse way of putting work together and combing opposing materials. I think, how have people done it? How can I make it more interesting? Can I make it better by using materials that don’t like each other?

L: So would you say experimentation is pretty central to your process as an artist?

K: I wouldn’t say its an essential process, I think of it more like a necessary step to breaking the rules of how to use different materials. I’m forced to experiment to satisfy my need to have uncommon materials forged together.

L: Going back to the topic of light, I noticed that it seems to be important to your pieces in the show. Has it always been, or is that something new you’ve started to explore?

K: I don’t like being forced to do something I don’t want to do and get bored easily. I think certain elements should be allowed to be used. For instance, if I could use radioactive materials somehow, I would use radioactive materials. If I could harness fire into a sculpture, I would. So, I questioned how I could use something you can’t touch, something intangible. I was influenced by the way artists like Turrel and Flavion have experimented with light in their sculptures. I’m interested in current technology in general, specially LEDs and fiber optics which are different types of light mediums that haven’t really been completely explored yet. I’ve even considered using a laser in my future work and would have in this show if I could have.

L: You’ve spoken to me previously about how you are interested in organic objects. Can you talk more about this idea of mimicking nature while also giving it more of an industrial feel?

K: In a lot of my older work, I used an industrial design with added organic objects to give it a “back to life” kind of feel. I’ve been doing that for a while, but tend to go one way more than the other, either being organic natural stuff or industrial stuff. I always teeter back and forth depending on how I feel. For this show, I happened to focus on industrial with nature being the added aspect.

L: Do you think you’ll continue with this idea of blending light with organic and inorganic industrial designs after graduation? Where do you think it fits into your career as whole?

K: After school, I will be working at Texas State as the metals studio manager. I do know that I want to continue working on different processes. At the same time, I’m always thinking about how to explore new materials. So this continued experimentation is something I’m looking forward to after my show. I might move onto something entirely new or merging new materials that I haven’t worked with yet.

L: Above all, what message, if any, do you want viewers to take way from your work as a whole? Is it at all conceptual, or more about the formal tangibility and intangibility of your work?

K: I don’t want people to think figuring out what the artwork should mean. It matters more what it’s saying to them. I’m interested in the different experiences people feel when looking at art. For instance, you could view my pieces as rain, or a shower, or a column, etc. Everyone’s perception is different, so I just want people to enjoy the experience of what they’re seeing, and maybe it will trigger a moment or a memory for that person. I don’t want people to have a clear idea of what it is and instead just enjoy it, and maybe even learn from it. Above all, I want it to inspire people to think outside the box.

WC: 1249