Acclaim is not the driving force for one artist whose bronze sculptures are integral parts of memorials honoring America's veterans. If the Soda Bay resident had his way, this story would not be about him. Instead, it would focus on the men and women of the United States' armed forces; or it would emphasize the importance of conveying a message. Like the sculptor's art, the story would pay tribute to individuals who gave so much and whose experiences affected the lives of so many others.
Rolf Nord Kriken says he has become "more vocal" in the last few years, and perhaps his work reflects it. However, his sculptures are not designed solely to express the artist's feelings; they are intended to allow the viewer to draw his or her own conclusions, to evoke emotions as unique as each individual, and to give viewers a sense of perceptual freedom, letting them decide on the art's meaning.
The subject matter is difficult for people. Kriken creates realistic portrayals of service men and women for memorials. In a series of symbolic castings separate from the memorials, the artist incorporated the partial faces of soldiers, the Army code, weaponry, and other war objects. "It's not easy for people to view the art because it forces them to deal with the issue of war," says Kriken. The memorials must be created for the right reasons, he says, and that is not to bring attention to the artist.
Kriken created three-dimensional, life-size sculptures and did the bronze fabrication and art work for the California Vietnam Memorial in Sacramento, which was dedicated in 1988. He is busy with two more projects: the All Wars Memorial in Danville, California, and the Cleveland All Veterans Memorial in Cleveland, Ohio.
While working on the memorial for California's Vietnam veterans, Kriken experienced "a turning point." He realized how important memorials are, the artist said. "It sunk in - my responsibility, my purpose."
It was a turning point for his art as well. He was more of an abstract artist early in his career as a sculptor, he explained. He described his earlier work as "non-representational." His pieces for memorials are the products of his "realist" form, shown by the carefully detailed figures and icons.
Kriken has shown his work in many exhibits since the late 1960s. The most recent show, and one of the most rewarding, said Kriken, was in April at the University of California, Davis' Memorial Union Gallery. Earlier this year his bronze castings were on display in the Lake County courthouse, Lakeport, as part of the Lake County Arts Council's Art in Public Places exhibit.
"There is a difference between memorialization and fine art," Kriken explained. Because of the subject matter addressed by his series of bronze castings that combine emblems of war, the artist/foundryman has had trouble getting representation in galleries.
Yet it is not the lack of recognition that bothers Kriken. It is the need for awareness that concerns him. "We have to raise (people's) consciousness so we don't have a continuum," he said. "It's time for everyone, not just artists, to do something to address the issues."
Kriken believes that each individual must decide what he has to do to "change what is wrong to right." Referring to his work on memorials, Kriken said he told youngsters attending a career day presentation, "Put me out of business (by making sure no more wars occur) so your names won't end up on a wall."
For more information about Rolf Kriken's work, contact the artist at his studio, (707) 279-9116. To arrange for a tour of the studio, call Kriken at the same number.
Photograph above by Bobbi Oliver
Rolf Kriken in his sculpture garden in Soda Bay, CA