Kinzie 1 (2003)
72.0 x 48.0 x 0.0
University Club of Chicago
For artist Roland Kulla, painting was not his first professional career but came later in life and ignited a practice that has inspired and influenced many artists since. Before becoming an artist, Kulla spent ten years in seminary and then worked for roughly thirty years in social work.
In 1989, he took a series of courses in oil painting, which ignited his interest in art and architecture. Then around 1994, he formed a painting practice and started showing his work in exhibitions.
In 1998, his work focused on the structure and engineering of Chicago’s bridges and by 2002, he considered himself a full time artist. Early in his career, Kulla focused on the intricate nature of Chicago’s bridges and structures, but by 2006 he was also painting bridges in Boston, New York City, and Germany.
He viewed these structures as proxies for the human experience, as a way for the viewer to enter his composition and relate to the space. Later, his practice expanded to include woodcutting, lithography, dry point etching and more. Kulla’s process often involved choosing a specific theme and then working on multiple canvases within that theme at one time. Once completed, the multiple canvases comprise a series of paintings. Past series have included rendering railroad bridges in multiple cities, such as Chicago’s iconic burgundy bridges or Pittsburgh’s yellow bridges.
Kulla began his painting process by photographing the bridges in different compositional arrangements and then painted from those photographic studies. He started his canvas with a base coat, followed by an underpainting, at which point he would employ an overhead projector to scale the photograph on the canvas and sketch the composition.
Venturing away from bridges, Kulla has also worked on a series of ruined Cistercian abbeys that are throughout Europe. His interest in bridges resided in part from their visual details and design, and he strived to uncover their individual unique components, such as the relationship between a cross section of steel rods and the small round bolts that connect them.
By concentrating primarily on formal qualities such as shapes, light and dark, and surface and void, he created a work that both references the bridge but is also an abstract composition of geometric pattern and line.
In Kinzie I, Roland Kulla depicted one of his iconic large-scale detailed portraits of a burgundy colored bridge in Chicago. The vertically oriented composition captures the arches and supports of the bridge across an open pathway. The grand scale and detailed section of the bridge across the composition evokes a sensation of seemingly monumental proportions.
In the lower left corner of the composition, the right arched beam reaches upwards, traversing across the center of the composition and arching at the highest point at the top right edge of the canvas, before descending downward towards the lower right side. This curved line creates a sense of depth and height that navigates the canvas and consumes the composition. Light emanates across the top of the bridge, transforming the deep burgundy into a pale, light, blue-white color that contrasts the deep tones of the lower portion of the bridge.
The horizon line is low in the bottom half of the composition, which also enhances the sense of monumental height that the bridge commands in the composition. Kulla simplified the space around the bridge, including erasing any presence of pedestrians or automobiles and minimizing the sky to a solid pale-blue background. By editing and minimizing the surrounding space, Kulla focused attention on the intricate structural support built up within each beam of the bridge, offering the viewer time to visually study each rivet, line, beam, and arch that completes this structure. The smooth, precise application of paint almost completely removes the artist’s mark or hand from the surface and offers a photo-realist quality to the pristine rendering of the structure. In this, Kulla revised an everyday urban bridge into the dynamic splendor of its functionality, monumentality, curves and lines, and grand beauty.