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The Primal Touch

Minimalist sculptor Douglas Lochner on dynamic tension, peace and joy, and the power of “junk art” as a catalyst to a feeling.

By Ryan A. Smith

Photo by Rudy Loupias

Douglas Lochner in his Oak View studio, grinding away at his latest gravity-inspired sculpture.

 

he road to becoming an artist is typically the one less traveled. For the Ojai Valley’s Douglas Lochner, it began in an entirely different world. Indeed, Lochner’s white-collar successes in the fields of advertising, marketing, computer software, and energy are worthy of their own feature articles. But he gladly jumped off the corporate gravy train, trading suit-and-tie executive meetings for leather coveralls and furnaces inside his Oak View art studio. Seven years on, Lochner is now forging uncharted paths in the fine art world.

Less than a decade ago you owned two highly reputable and profitable businesses, Flexible Logic® and Flexible Energy®. Have you ever doubted your decision to leave the corporate world to pursue art? I have no regrets. I was at the height of my professional career and was bored, the work was no longer challenging or fulfilling. I’ve altered career paths several times in my life and have never looked back; I see each new path as a natural evolution, allowing me to learn and grow with exciting new challenges and opportunities.

You began creating “junk art” as a hobby while still running two companies. How did working with discarded materials help focus the artistic side of your brain? I’ve always been creative, but usually constrained within a business environment requiring a high level of finesse and discipline. I started “playing” with scrap metal and junk because it was so totally different from my day-to-day work. It was crude, dirty, and grungy. Forging rusty metal — getting it white-hot and beating on it with a hammer — was about as far away from my day job as I could get. It was a wonderful stress release. It allowed me to nourish my primal creative instincts (and stay sane) while still working in a more traditional business structure.

You’ve said that you “strive to create art that touches people on a primal level, exploring universal themes that circumvent the limitations of language and culture.” Which primal concepts do your works wordlessly discuss? I strive to create joyous works: Rejoice is a good example. After all, it is just bent stainless steel tubing; however, most people see happy people dancing, and viewing it makes them feel good. Trinity is very soothing. Again, it is just formed glass, yet it has a unique presence. It is a catalyst to a feeling, as is Impact and Let’s Swim, each providing a different sensation.

Sculpturally, how are you able to achieve these statements? By understanding and leveraging subconscious triggers and primal emotions you can create works that impart a feeling without the need to be analyzed or deciphered by the viewer. Materials, shape, scale, color and light are all important components of the whole, everything working together to foster a level of intimacy and communication with the viewer.

You’ve been commissioned to create Wings of Honor, a magnificent installation of cantilevered glass designed to honor those who served at the Santa Barbara Marine Corps Air Station during World War II. Why do you feel it is important to not include war imagery? To me, it is not about bullets and bayonets or the icons of war; it is about service and sacrifice. We all instinctively feel good when we see an unselfish act of kindness. With Wings of Honor, I am trying to elicit that joy and connect it to the memory of our veterans. I felt it was a travesty to associate the sacrifice made by these men and women with the horrors of war. The sculpture is a monument to the power and grace of the human spirit in service to others. It celebrates the best of mankind, not the worst.

If completed to your specs, will you consider this your masterpiece? That is a good question. Wings of Honor certainly will be the largest and most ambitious work I’ve done to date. It also is a technical and engineering marvel, the only one of its kind worldwide. As far as it outweighing my other works, I don’t see it that way. To me, it is not about size or budget; it is about purity and truth. All my major works have been site or event specific. They all had different influences and criteria, and each was approached with the same intensity and care as Wings of Honor.

What are your favorite universal themes to explore, and how? Joy and peace. Peace as in serenity or being in harmony, and joy because there just isn’t enough joy in the world. Gravity and balance are also consistent factors in my work as is nature. For the last year or so, I’ve been interested in flocking and swarming behaviors (of people, insects, birds, and fish), which are based on very complex rules of attraction, intersection, and repulsion. The swirls of colored frit in my blown glass pieces are an analog representation of schooling fish. The flowing energy particles in Stream are based on very complex mathematical algorithms designed to model this intricate, natural behavior. I’m now taking these concepts to the next level: a very large (50+ feet) abstract sculptural representation of schooling fish and a new series of “flocking” digital interactive works.

What are you expressing with the use of cantilevering in your sculptures? A sense of tension is a consistent thread in my work, often obtained by cantilevering an object such that it appears to be precariously balanced. This creates dynamic tension — your primal mind sees the object on the verge of falling, which triggers your subconscious. It’s nothing you need to think about or decipher, just a subtle feeling which adds nuance and energy to the work.

You have a special affinity for blowing glass. What is it about the process that has you hooked? Yes, glass blowing is intoxicating. I find molten glass extremely seductive; it is a very intimate and responsive material. You have all the wonderful optical properties of glass to play with, plus an amazing amount of control by leveraging heat and gravity. It is the combination of those natural forces coupled with the time constraints that force a spontaneity that I seldom experience with other mediums. Some of my metal sculptures have taken years to fabricate, where my blown glass works are typically birthed in less than 15 minutes. There is something highly therapeutic to me in that.

Most recently, you’ve revisited your computer software coding days and found a way to blend it into art. What spawned this new medium? I was looking for a way to make my sculptures more intriguing and interactive, so I began experimenting with the Arduino microcontroller and a variety of sensor technologies. It just so happened at that time I was to be in a group show at the Ojai Valley Museum. The director, Michele Pracy, set a theme of “Rejuvenation” and asked each artist to revisit something from their past and make it new, so I created Stream. In a very true sense, it is my computer skills being reborn as art.

Technologically, what is going on behind the scenes to create Stream? It uses a hidden structured light 3-D camera and a computer to look at a scene, it processes the image in real-time to isolate any humans from the background. These are then traced to produce polygons, flipped so as to be a mirror image of the viewer and filled with a stream of swarming, charged particles which are displayed on the “canvas”, which is actually a high-definition monitor.

The use of “open-source” technology is key to your “smart” sculptures. Can you explain what this is? Open-source is, essentially, software (and now hardware) that is available free for noncommercial use, typically created and maintained by a highly dedicated, unpaid group of volunteer programmers and engineers. Some of the best software and development tools available today are open-source. The Arduino microcontroller is a fabulous example of open-source hardware. It is a wonderful invention that is literally changing the world. (Log on to ted.com and search for “Arduino” to learn how this tiny device is “open-sourcing imagination.”)

How do you envision something like Stream being presented in a public, interactive environment? I envision Stream and its counterparts projected along a long hallway in a public space, like an airport. Wouldn’t it be cool to get on a moving sidewalk at LAX and have the wall interact with you as you go to your gate?

Are there any new processes that you are getting very excited about now? My work is very process-driven. I am constantly experimenting with materials and techniques, and refining my skills. I have some new interactive works in early development that I am very excited about. I’m in the early phase of a major body of work based on “intelligent human aware sculptures,” which I find very exciting. I’m also constantly pushing the limits with glass. I guess the best I can tell you is to check my website every so often.

Keep up with Douglas Lochner and his latest projects at artthatworks.com.

Impact, 2013, 8’x6’x10’
A stainless steel arrow penetrates a rusted steel target, a constant reminder to chase your dreams.

Rejoice, 2013, 7’x10’x10’
Abstract dancers rejoice as the setting sun creates another masterful backdrop.
Photo Christopher Zsarnay / Z Studios

Entrée, 2011
Lochner created this fine art bench from solid Honduran Mahogany and Pennsylvania Curly Maple as a companion piece to an entry wall light sculpture.
Photo Christopher Zsarnay / Z Studios

A New Dawn, 2009
Paying homage to what had been, while reaching upward in a symbol of hope, remnants of Santa Barbara’s historic Gane House stand in defiance of the 2009 Jesusita Fire.

A sample of the type of dynamic moving images created by Stream, a fully interactive digital sculpture from 2014.

Douglas Lochner blowing glass at Ventura Hot Glass.

A 2013 selection of blown glass vessels.

08-01-2015

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