Small Sculpture in Texas ©1993, 2000 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

The Aesthetics of Trash

Ken Luce creates superb primitivist assemblage from weathered industrial detritus found along the Houston ship channel and other local trash venues. Discarded wood, metal and patterned cloth comprise the major components of his work in the last three years.

Before that, after a B & MFA from the U of Houston, Luce found that "being what I thought was a successful artist got me a little confused." His turning point came in 1984, when he went to New York to visit an old surfing friend and art school buddy, and they saw the Primitivist Show.

His friend-Julian Schnabel-told him, "Look, you're as trained as you're ever going to be. Trust yourself, and be more sensitive while you work. Don't be in such a rush to finish. And don't look back-just do'em, then do the next one and the next one."

The advice gave him the impetus to return to assemblage, which he'd done as a kid. The Primitive Show gave him the subject matter and style. "Primitive Art has some kind of power that's lacking in a lot of art," he said. "I've just been going full blast since then."


"I always tried to paint nature-to make some connection between me and nature... I was thinking how it would look when I was finished." But "I don't try at art any more, and I think because of that, they come out better." He likes the randomness found objects create. "If you plan art too much, it loses power-it's much scarier just to do it and not know what's going on," he says.

As a painter he'd shown for a decade at Houston's Dubose and other galleries, but his recent show at the exclusive Eugene Binder gallery was his first major one-person show "in this life," Luce joked. "As we say in the art biz, it was a great personal success."

The Binder show included six giant mask-like assemblages, superb in their subtle, muted tones, weather-beaten multi-layered colors and worn textures. A mustached, weathered wood slat Head of V.V.G. (Vincent Van Gogh) and a shiny Picasso-esque Manifold Man-with hubcap eyes, a long gleaming jagged nose and cheeks of subtle brown and lilac polyester resin rubbed into corrugated metal-added touches of humor.
Four more traditional constructions-some including smaller faces or silhouetted figures-were likewise strong.

But two pieces incorporating tasteless patterned cloth were weak by comparison. Luce defends them as "real close to the assemblage in a painting sort of way." But they are chintzy and oversimple, and they have none of the mottled, muted colors and texture that make his other work glow.

"I've slowly refined my aesthetics of trash," the 37-year-old artist said. When he goes trash-digging or beachcombing, Luce seeks "anything that's been worked by humans then oceanized and come back... I look for things that are kind of weird," he said.

"Anything around the sea [gets] painted repeatedly and often; as those [layers] break down, you get beautiful surfaces."

Houston ArtScene magazine,
Vol. 7, #14, fall 1986 


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