Remembering the U-boat

A talk with local artist Klutch Stanaway about his latest sculpture show

CLUTCHES OF INSPIRATION Chico State artist Klutch Stanaway stands beside his “Line Drawing Device” currently on display in the Humanities Center Gallery at Chico State.

CLUTCHES OF INSPIRATION Chico State artist Klutch Stanaway stands beside his “Line Drawing Device” currently on display in the Humanities Center Gallery at Chico State.

photo by Tom Angel

There is a field near the Chico airport where several large, mysterious, industrial devices loom. Their forms and ambiguous functions remind local artist Klutch Stanaway of his sculptures, and we met there recently to talk about where he’s been, where he’s going, and his current show “Reward Structure,” on view until Dec. 21 at the Humanities Center Gallery in Trinity Hall.

Stanaway is a rising star among visual-arts students at the university and has been showing his work steadily for the last year or so, broadening his influence.

His sculptures consist of large, welded metal pieces and often feature long, narrow poles, wheels, swinging parts, handles and other things we typically associate with industrial design. They are optionally interactive, although that part of his concept has changed somewhat recently.

“Earlier, when I was making them, the interaction was very important, and I felt that without it they were kind of dead. But now that’s what I really like—the potential of interaction,” he says. “They’re all a size that seems to be a give-and-take between being able to control it and not being able to control it. Like a distance long enough away so that you know you could force it to do something, but at the same time it does what it wants.”

His pieces are put together in ways that we vaguely recognize as functional, but they are also ambiguous, often seeming pointless, and they play with our notions of purpose.

Stanaway is noted now for working in this way esthetically and conceptually, but it all began when he was studying in Mainz, Germany.

“If I make just one bumper sticker in my life, it’s going to say: ‘Remember the U-boat,'” he explains. “I had this bronze submarine that I cast, and it took me months and months of pitter-pattering around and cleaning it up, and then I spent another three months trying to figure out what to do with it. Finally, I wanted to make this submarine helicopter, with these huge helicopter wings rotating slowly in the gallery. To make that I needed two half-circle bars, and I had [them made] by someone I knew. And then, once he gave me the pieces, they were beautiful. Just these metal poles were phenomenal, with a dark texture and very elegant. I threw that submarine away and stuck a pole and a wheel on it.”

Stanaway will receive a degree in German as well as art this spring, and after graduation he plans to go to Italy, having been nominated by the university to study abroad.

Right here and now, though, he’s pointing out his favorite thing in this industrial corner of Chico near the airport: a tall stepladder on wheels positioned against a vacant hanger about four feet below a high window. He likes the haphazard juxtaposition of these functional pieces.

“The whole chance of the set-up," he says, "they’re oblivious to their situation. I’ve been really drawn to that type of thing right now. The past [couple of] sculptures, it felt like I was regurgitating an idea over and over and over again. So I’m looking around for a fresh start with the same concept, a lighter and more humorous interpretation. And that has that feeling."