Kirk Sullens has been a smith for 30 years, and a full-time professional blacksmith for over twenty-eight years, and is best known for his wildlife creations, which decorate Bass Pro Shops/Outdoor World stores throughout the United States and Canada. He is now based near Orlando, Florida.
“I think what makes wildlife art work so well for me is that I’ve been a keen observer and lover of all kinds of wildlife since early childhood. To be successful doing wildlife art, whether in three dimensions or two, you have to have a firm understanding not just of what your subject is doing in the frozen moment of the work, but what it’s going to do next! That’s what it takes to transform your work from a static piece of metal to a representation of a dynamic moment, frozen in time. Anyone with reasonable eye-hand coordination can be taught repoussé, but the eye to see where the subject has been, where it is, and where it’s likely to be next is very difficult to teach. To be successful, your work has to show a slice of a moving story.
“I started doing repoussé in the late 90’s after having seen it demonstrated in 1990 by fellow professional blacksmith Nahum Hersom. It was so well suited to the wildlife art I’d been doing, and the designers at Bass Pro Shops Design and Development liked it so much, that they began to design projects with that in mind. Designing projects around smithing techniques I learned happened several times during my tenure with John L. Morris and company. It gave me a perfect opportunity to refine my craft, doing work I loved.
“Beautiful details of the everyday are inspirational to me. When I look at the world, I see beautiful things all around me, in every setting. Several of my pieces demonstrate the beauty of the everyday. I used a mountain lion as a subject for a handrail decoration. The mountain lion is often depicted in painting and sculpture in an angry, snarling posture, because that is quite dramatic. Unfortunately, it’s also become quite cliché. I found a wonderful photo of a mountain lion simply relaxed, taking a snooze. It was fantastic, and I had to make it! I found a photo of a weasel, stretching precariously far from his perch on a branch to grab and eat some berries. How many people know that weasels even eat berries? It was a perfect subject! The Missouri Conservationist ran a photo of a Red-tailed Hawk on its cover. The hawk was perched on a branch, shoulders relaxed so its wings were just barely hanging down. Its left foot had one talon turned under, just a tiny, minor mis-step, but it was a detail that’s rarely represented in art. It’s also the kind of detail that any viewer can instantly relate to, on both conscious and unconscious levels. We all misplace a foot once in a while, stub a toe, take a nap, reach out a little bit farther than we should. So when we see those things in an artist’s subject, we can imagine ourselves in that subjects place. We see a little bit of the life of that hawk, that mountain lion, that weasel.
“There’s a quote from A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner that I use to explain how I feel about my art. It illustrates how creativity comes from inside you, and from your perspective on the world; and how difficult it is to convey that “way of looking at things” to someone else:
“Well, I sort of made it up,” said Pooh. “It isn’t Brain,” he went on humbly, “because You Know Why*, Rabbit; but it comes to me sometimes.”
“Ah!” said Rabbit, who never let things come to him, but always went and fetched them.
*For those of you unfamiliar with Winnie the Pooh (the real Milne Pooh, and not the Disney version), “why” is because Pooh is a Bear of Very Little Brain.
That’s how it is, with me. I don’t know what it is, but it comes to me sometimes.