Though not entirely explicit, some artistic details could reward observant travelers who stroll through Barkley Regional Airport next spring.
Artworks by Russel Bash, Nikki May and Guy Kemper embody a year-long process that’s whittled 51 applicants to three permanent works in Barkley’s new terminal to welcome regional newcomers.
“Kaleidoscopes of Paducah,” a collection of photos on the gate area’s 23-by-eight-foot west wall, features convex polygons that — at a closer glance — portray the city’s well-known buildings like the McCracken County Courthouse and Grace Episcopal Church on Broadway.
Some recede, while others protrude, through a frame crafted from a cornice detail of People’s First National Bank on Third and Broadway.
“It’s hard to set a timeline as far as my art goes,” said Russel Bash, a University of Kentucky alumni who was an intern architect for five years before changing directions.
The Discovery Park of America in Union City, Tennessee, has shown Bash’s work.
His portfolio site, RusselBashPhotography.com, portrays how, in Bash’s words, everything — from trees to bookshelves to machinery — embodies artistic potential, sparked from a childhood memory of watching shapes and colors converge through his parents’ oil kaleidoscope.
“It was a world of infinite possibility, and a never-ending source of dazzling geometry,” he wrote on his site. “As soon as my daughter was old enough, I bought her a kaleidoscope so she could discover its secrets for herself.”
“It was a quiet day, sitting in her toy room with her, looking through that kaleidoscope (when) the thought first occurred to me, ‘What would the world look like if it were seen through a kaleidoscope?’ I have been pursuing that thought ever since.”
Nikki May’s “Angles Garden” is an illustrated garden inspired by Alben Barkley — the airport’s namesake and past vice president to Harry S. Truman — between the mullions of the gate area’s 950-square-foot glass wall.
The work blends self-expression and rigid pragmatism, starting with an opaque azure to meet TSA privacy requirements and gradually yielding a translucence for natural light to enter the room.
Observers can notice region-native flora and fauna among foliage that ranges from spring’s greenery to autumn’s burned umber abscission.
“This particular area goes from departures to arrivals, on one side, and it’s such a long space that they wanted to convey a direction,” said May, the owner of Nikki D. May Art and Design and a Yeiser Art Center board member. “You go from spring to fall, and it implies.”
May has 20 years of experience in web design, offering brand and web solutions to clients while pursuing other projects less confined to cubicles and conference rooms.
On her portfolio site NikkiMay.com, May is blunt in her desire to “really just draw pretty pictures,” but her frequent returns to nature show a need for meaning that the corporate world can only mimic and not be.
May completed a three-story window mural earlier this year with the Broadway Mural Project, a Paducah Main Street and Creative & Cultural Council joint effort. At 315 Broadway, monarch butterflies rest on Black-eyed Susan flowers.
“I loved the connection between the piece I did downtown and the piece in the airport,” she said. “I picture people arriving, seeing the work, then seeing it downtown — and I’m super excited. I know the (other) finalists’ work, and any of them would have been amazing. I’m beyond grateful and in good company.”
Outside the gate area, a large-scale mosaic by Guy Kemper will occupy a 34-by-seven-foot feature wall. “Flight Pattern Quilt” is the Gestalt of thousands of meticulously assembled glass pieces, evoking several concepts and evading a singular definition.
Black streaks meet smoky contrails and golden hues in flight trajectories reminiscent of quilt-like pattern stitching. Kemper’s work is not abstract, nor a quilt or painting, but it is all of these.
“I immediately wanted to do quilts; I love them and have a collection,” Kemper said. “I thought about the patterning and stitching, and I thought about the diagrams I used to see in the back of airline magazines, showing all the arcs and loops around the cities. There’s this kind of energy and movement in it, and I think it’s very suitable for where it’s at in the airport.”
Kemper’s site, KemperStudio.com, records a materials process crafted by Mayer of Munich, where Kemper has completed a few commissioned works.
His portfolio holds past projects for the Chicago O’Hare and Nashville International Airports, among several other places, including churches and hospitals.
When Kemper — a past Murray State University student from Woodford County — read Barkley’s call for artists, he realized he qualified.
“I’ve done a lot of airports, so it caught my eye,” Kemper said, adding he felt “extremely lucky” when he received his first large commission project with Orlando International Airport in 1999.
“I’m an artist, so you do anything you can,” he said. “It’s tough to be an artist anywhere, but it’s tougher in Kentucky; you have to leave town to survive.”
Barkley budgeted some $165,000 for the terminal’s art-selection process this fiscal year, including paid commission.
In March, the airport hired Meridith McKinley of Via Partnership, a St. Louis-based public art consultant, who helped a newly formed ad hoc committee eventually recommend Bash, May and Kemper to the Airport Authority board.
“We wanted a ‘wow’ effect, and I think and hope we’ve achieved that,” Art Committee Chairman Dann Patterson told board members at a recent meeting. “Paducah is a wonderful arts and culture community, and I think our selections reflect that community while highlighting Paducah as a UNESCO site.”
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