Saturday, July 23, 2016

Kendall Buster: Innovative Sculptor

Alabama-born artist Kendall Buster (1954-) is widely regarded as one of the most innovative sculptors in the United States because of the unusual merger of art and science in her work. Trained as a microbiologist, Buster creates sculptures that have been described as "biological architecture," that reference the molecular world by recreating its shapes and forms on a massive scale. Buster sometimes collaborates with her husband, South African artist Siemon David Allen (1971-), whom she married in 1997.

Kendall Buster was born in Selma, Dallas County, on September 15, 1954, the only child of Ralph DeWitt Buster and Jennie Kendall Traylor Buster. Raised outside of Selma in the town of Sardis, where her father served as postmaster, she attended Selma's John T. Morgan Academy from 1965 to 1972. In 1972, Buster entered the University of Alabama, where she studied microbiology, receiving a bachelor's degree in medical technology in 1976. Upon graduation, she moved first to Tampa, Florida, where she worked as a medical technologist in the laboratory at the All Children's Hospital. In 1977, she moved to Washington, D.C. During this time, she visited art museums in Washington and New York City, experiences that by 1978 led to her take art classes at Washington's Corcoran School of Art (now Corcoran College of Art and Design) and the University of Maryland in College Park. In 1979, Buster enrolled full time at the Corcoran, receiving her BFA in 1981. In 1984, she completed the Independent Study Program of New York's Whitney Museum of American Art and in 1987 received her MFA in sculpture from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

While still working in a clinical medical laboratory, Buster became captivated by the beauty of what she observed with her microscope and began to make drawings of what she has called the "landscape" she saw through her lens. In art school, she shifted her focus to creating large-scale sculptures resembling cellular structures. The transition from flat to sculptural works occurred when Buster began to configure her two-dimensional paintings into three-dimensional architectural spaces, accessible by the viewer.

Buster's works typically consist of a semitransparent shadecloth "membrane" stretched over a large cage-like frame constructed from bent and welded steel rods. In some works, the membrane is made of paper, insect screening, thin steel sheeting, or beeswax. Many of Buster's works encourage the viewer to walk inside of them. Many of Buster's works are commissioned for a predetermined natural or human-made setting and are designed specifically for that particular locale by considering and responding to the environment in which the work will reside. One such site-specific sculpture, Garden Snare (1998) created for the Kreeger Museum, in Washington, D.C., is a shade house consisting of two conjoined chambers resembling a dividing cell. The chambers have low, discreet entrances that require the viewer to stoop down to step inside. The inconspicuous entrances help preserve a sense of total envelopment once inside, and the shade cloth membrane provides shelter from the sun but still enables the viewer to see the surrounding garden. A square opening at the top of each chamber permits natural light to enter and also frames a view of the sky.

Buster also has created a number of site-specific hanging sculptures. One example, Resonance (2010), housed at the Frick Chemistry Laboratory at Princeton University, in Princeton, New Jersey, was designed and built in collaboration with Siemon Allen. It consists of six groupings of interconnected translucent circular and oval forms, ranging in size from 8-by-3 feet to 16-by-10 feet, suspended from a 75-foot-high glass atrium roof with stainless steel aircraft cable. According to Buster, the forms, which resemble cells splitting and dividing, were partially inspired by the models used to represent molecular structures.

In 2010, Buster was one of eight artists commissioned to create a work for the opening of 100 Acres: The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, in Indianapolis, Indiana. Buster created Stratum Pier, a series of curved and layered platforms along the park's lakeshore that provide a viewing area from which to experience the surrounding environment. The stratified, undulating forms of the platforms are meant to reference the landscape itself, bringing to mind the contours on a topographical map and also referring to the natural process of erosion and growth. The work was constructed from emerald green fiberglass to blend in with the surrounding landscape, with grasses and brush growing around it.

In addition to numerous permanent site-specific works, Buster's work has been exhibited at numerous galleries and museums throughout the United States, including the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York, the Haggerty Museum of Art in Milwaukee, and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City. Internationally, her work has been shown at the Bahnhof Westend in Berlin and the KZNSA Gallery in Durban, South Africa. In 2005, Buster received an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Buster lives and works in Richmond, Virginia, where she is a professor in the Department of Sculpture and Extended Media at Virginia Commonwealth University. She previously taught at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, D.C., and at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Maryland.
"Dis-assembling Utopias" Cape Town, South Africa exhibit

Kendall Buster will host a walkabout at 16:00 on Thursday 28 July
2016 Pollak Prize

The selectors said: Kendall’s monumental installations are at once both diaphanous and industrial, transforming spaces in exhibitions and commissions across the globe. Her commitment to her practice and her research makes her a priceless asset to her VCUarts students and Richmond as a whole.

Growing up in Sardis, Alabama, where her father was postmaster, Kendall Buster built forts in the woods, made her own toys and read everything. Her Depression-era grandfather enjoyed carving. “He was always making tools and contraptions of all sorts,” she recalls.

Her intellect steered her toward the sciences and in 1972, she started studies in microbiology at the University of Alabama. Peering at organic structures through a microscope initiated the ideas that she’d ultimately translate into art. She worked first as a medical technologist at Tampa, Florida’s All Children’s Hospital.

Her 1977 move to Washington, D.C., gave access to a galaxy of museums and galleries. She chose to explore the creative aspect of her scientific interests, taking classes at what is now the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design and the University of Maryland in College Park. She received  her Bachelor of Fine Arts there in 1981.

“The Corcoran in the early ’80s was a perfect laboratory environment for finding one’s own practice,” she recalls. “We moved from drawing to film to constructions to text-based works to performance.” Buster cites the late abstract sculptor and Corcoran professor Anne Truitt as a great influence on the way she wanted to live as an artist.

She earned her Master of Fine Arts from Yale University and did further work through the Whitney Museum’s Independent Study Studio Program in New York City. In 2002, Buster came to Virginia Commonwealth University to teach in the “incredible” sculpture program. “I was moving between D.C., Baltimore … NYC and even South Africa at the time,” she says, “and was lured here by the program and the community that is VCU School of the Arts.”

A primary material in her work is agricultural shade cloth, which she first discovered in the greenhouse structures of Cape Town, South Africa — her husband, artist Siemon David Allen, is from there — and she uses it for her large pieces that require transparent skin.

Buster’s creations for manmade and natural locations are sometimes large enough to walk into. “Garden Snare” (1998), created for the Kreeger Museum in Washington, is two joined chambers that look like futuristic camping enclosures. One must enter stooped. The visitor is enclosed, but can see through the material, and square openings at the top of each section give a view of the sky. Buster sees this form as a living cell that could split again.

Ralph DeWitt Buster (b.1924, AL) Father
William Russell Buster (b.1884, AL) Grandfather William DeWitt Buster (b.1857, AL) Great-Grandfather
John Buster Jr. (b.1810, AL) 2nd Great-Grandfather
John Buster Sr. (b.1762, VA) 3rd Great-Grandfather
David Buster (b. 1738, VA) 4th Great-Grandfather
William Bustard (b. 1694, UK) 5th Great-Grandfather

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