Clay Ketter’s work merges art and design, whilst manipulating subjects that may be recognisable to the viewer. His art appears as everything from meticulously designed and constructed monuments to "American vernacular architecture”, to photography “influenced by modern imaging techniques”.
The work of Clay Ketter toes the line between art and design, incorporating learned practices from both disciplines, coming to merge as works of art that have a highly unique voice. With a background in construction and an education in art and design, Ketter’s artistic finger occasionally points towards the design in the art, and the art in the design, which he solidifies to me succinctly: “Design is an answer to a question. It entertains the question or request. Art has more sovereignty. It entertains nothing (in the best case scenario), only itself … In a perfect world, there is no difference (between art and design)”.
“In a nutshell, I have realized, all too late in the game, that my artworks should not be about it, but be it." Ketter’s development in approach to his work has lead to him exhibiting seemingly larger works, which inhabit the mediums of photography, installation, drawing and many more. Size, therefore, is important in giving the subjects of these works a sense of ‘realness’: “what may seem like a ‘large-scale’ work to a viewer is actually simply 1:1, or ever so slightly smaller (to create an uneasiness or disorientation). I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. At least when it comes to drawings and photographic media, I work more and more in 1:1 scale.” In Ketter’s ‘Valencia Wall’ or ‘Road’ series of photographs, this expanse in size delivers the opportunity to consider the role of the senses in photography: “From a formalistic standpoint, a photograph subjectifies an object, it captures the play of shadow and light in a given situation, thereby implying what you refer to as texture. It becomes a matter of reading, rather than a sensory phenomenon. In a way, the large, as-1:1-as-possible, scale is an attempt to re-objectify the phenomenon represented.” With these approaches to size, comes what Ketter describes as “gravity”.
However, this “gravity” is something that Ketter believes can originate from several sources, not just magnitude: “Sometimes, art is at its best when it dashes expectations. Art is at its best when it is recalcitrant. That being said, I believe that the best design is also recalcitrant." This can be seen in abundance in Ketter’s larger installations. ‘Tomb’ and ‘Homestead’ play with the viewer’s expectations and pre-conceived notions of aesthetic and purpose. This breathes a palpable and yet indescribable energy, which the artist believes “is more the result of small adjustments in the otherwise recognizable."
“Both Homestead and Tomb are first and foremost archetypes for an American vernacular architecture – a lowest common denominator for a dwelling within this vernacular. They are based on the dimensions of Thoreau’s cabin at Walden pond, while bearing a style more resonant of Elvis Presley’s birthplace. The adjustments I speak of are simply the removal of doors, windows, vents, stairs – the removal of physical access – perhaps opening up for a more cerebral access, contemplation. What seems, at a distance, cozy, becomes, upon closer examination, stubbornly cold. My Surface Composites or 'kitchen' pieces from the 1990’s are made in the same way. By 'bending' the artwork to the edge of its familiarity, by making it estranged, I hopefully knock the viewer, at least for a moment, out of their comfort zone of recognition. What one thinks one sees, and what one sees, form something new, something sovereign.”
Ketter’s 'bending' of his work can be seen as a logical development from some artistic traditions that sought to place meaning in the ‘absurdity’ of exhibiting common-place objects out of their original context: “The gesture of presenting a ready-made object as an art object has filled its function in art. This revolutionary gesture marked a significant turning point in art-making, and we still enjoy the liberation it unfolded and continues to encourage. However, the ready-made is a one-liner; its greatest value occurs upon the 'ah-ha' reception”. For Ketter, art should be somewhat about 'fabrication', not just in crafting something new, but also “in the literary sense of 'making-up' or telling a story."
With this “fabrication” that exists in the “story” of an artwork, a certain amount of sentimentality and reminiscence of the past can be read, which Ketter approaches with “caution”: “As a human being, I am sentimental, and do not try to curb my sentimentality, but as an artist, I find my own sentimentality, as well as the sentimentality of others, to have a clouding effect. One must try to eliminate this cloudiness or fog in order to reach clarity. Clarity is paramount, no matter what media one is using … Nostalgia is the worst of all sentimentalities, in its commonly recognized form– nostalgia concerning the past. I believe there is, however, such a thing as nostalgia concerning the imagined future, and I enjoy entertaining this notion."
Ketter’s inspiring attachment to making “work that insists on being made” sees himself “serving [his] art instead” of the art serving him, his relationship with the making of art becomes “a matter of trust”: “If I can manage to concentrate on the thing that insists on being made, that which becomes clear to me in the moments when I am both awake and a-sleep … then the rest is logistics– work." Most artists will agree that they strive for some sort of freedom in creating their work, whether it be physical and logistical freedom or whether it is freedom from the chains that hold us down mentally, to which Ketter prescribes “a self-emancipation from consistency – freedom, not only from established consensuses surrounding one’s work, but also one's own wretched half-baked dogmas, embracing the freedom to contradict one's self, and enjoying the consequent liberty of this emancipation”.