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Keith Lemley * Exclusive Interview


Keith Lemley´s work comes from the surroundings of his studio, in rural Appalachia, USA. In his artist’s statement he explains his growing “interest in being part of and observing natural systems, time and the process of life and death, and an aesthetic sensibility synthesizing the organic and the machine.” This can be seen with this installation, “Something and Nothing”. The combination of natural elements and industrial lights create an unexpected harmony.


A · Firstly, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I grew up mostly in central Pennsylvania, received a BFA from the Pennsylvania State University, and an MFA and MA in sculpture from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. I have held teaching positions at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, University of Wisconsin – Green Bay, and Bucknell University.  I’ve always enjoyed being out of doors and recently moved to a rural and fairly remote region of West Virginia where I am in the process of building a new studio.  It has been an interesting change and invigorating for my work.

B · What’s your favourite part of the design process?
I crave the “aha!” moment when form and concept click in my mind, as well as being able to experience the final object or environment as reality. This always happens in my studio, as I am playing and experimenting with materials and ideas, almost like a mad scientist.

C · Please tell us more about your art and design background and what made you become an artist and designer?
I have always modified objects and customized my surroundings from an early age as a form of play. My grandparents were farmers and I loved working with my hands – from helping my grandfather fix equipment to building models. Having begun college in engineering, I gradually shifted to art and design, which I found to be a better fit for me. I realized that in art I could combine all my interests from various subjects – science, engineering, architecture, psychology – as well as work with my hands and communicate my own ideas.


D · Where do you get inspiration?
I can’t help but be inspired to some degree by everything and everyone I come in contact with, but I am particularly inspired by memories of emotionally charged experiences – which may come of a bit of a surprise considering the minimal and somewhat industrial look of my work. Aesthetically, I draw from nature and reinterpret my experiences through the filter of my own hands. I look at a lot of art, for example, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago’s 2009 exhibition of Buckminster Fuller’s work had a huge influence on my interest in modernist design, but I also think about historical events like the lunar landing, and the humanity’s endless drive for discovery, exploration, and innovation.

E · What was the movie or book that impressed you the most?
“The Way Things Work”, which is an illustrated encyclopedia of almost everything you can think of.  For example, it will show a telephone with all of the working parts inside and explain how it works. I had it as a kid and still reference it occasionally today when I am fixing or designing something. Visually, “2001: A Space Odyssey” is stunning.

F · Can you describe your style, how has that style developed over the years?
I create installation environments often using neon tubes and light that hint at possible futures.  My interests have evolved over the years, but the use of light in my work is a unifying and ongoing thread. My work goes through periods of constriction, where I edit all unnecessary elements and it becomes quite minimal. Then I go through periods of expansion, where I add in new materials or processes for variety or to reference new ideas. That’s my studio cycle.



G · What are you working on at the moment?
I’m preparing to install projects at the Montreal Underground and the SUNY Potsdam Art Museum. After that, I will go back into my studio to fabricate some new projects involving wind damaged old-growth timber and neon.

H · For you what makes a product rare?
It needs to have a certain spark about it – a unique presence and sharp design that make it memorable and stand out from the rest. In my own work, I am interested in how it can appear mass produced or like industrial design from a few feet away, but up close it is hand made. The neon, metal struts, Mylar cut by hand, all shows my unique mark and that makes it interesting.

I · What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I’m learning to care for some old orchards near my studio that have been neglected for a couple generations– pruning, grafting, and hoping to reap fruit after bringing the trees to health.  Cider is a particular favorite of mine and I’m looking forward to refurbishing a well-worn 19th century cast iron cider press and putting it work this fall!



See our article on Keith Lemley’s light exhibition.

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