Alongside Japanese honeysuckle, “Indian Magic” crabapple and beaked yucca, a new exotic species has blossomed in the Santa Fe Botanical Garden. It comes in the shape of 15 monumental sculptures by Kevin Box.
“It was one of the smoothest installs of my career,” Box says as he tours the grounds. Days prior, he had installed a 21-foot-tall Pegasus in Dallas that proved to be quite the challenge.
Inspired by the ancient art of traditional Japanese paper folding, Box’s metal pieces acquire an aesthetic all their own, juxtaposing common forms of origami, like cranes and paper airplanes, and turning them into the most resistant yet seemingly delicate pieces of art you’ll encounter.
This dichotomy is an integral part of his signature style.
“My background and my real passion is with paper,” Box, a former printmaker and graphic designer, says. “There’s nothing more beautiful than that blank, white sheet. To me, that’s historically the metaphor that all artists and creative people have to deal with.”
His shift to fine art was cemented when he got a chance to study art history abroad during his sophomore year at New York’s renowned School of Visual Arts. In Greece, surrounded by age-old beauty, he became aware that he was essentially “making landfill trash for a living—print advertising and package design.”
“I realized that there is this ancient dialogue about antiquity that’s been going on for thousands of years in the form of fine art, really—in architecture, in stone carvings and paintings,” he muses. “And this conversation was really about who we are and where we come from and you know, what are we gonna do.”
The move to sculpture was prompted both by paper’s vulnerability and Box’s love for public art. “I put paper down and began studying casting,” Box says.
Several apprenticeships later, he co-founded Deep In the Heart Art Foundry in the outskirts of Austin. He told his partners at the time that he’d accept materials and casting rights as payment.
Expanding his own practice, Box set up shop next door inside a former print shop that was filled to the rafters with old paper. He got the message loud and clear.
“I spent every waking hour in the foundry, developing these techniques and pursuing my own voice with paper and bronze, and marrying the two,” he recalls.
He’s standing in front of “Double Happiness”—a sculpture depicting two cranes building a nest made out of olive branches, mounted on a natural stone setting.
The crane elements are bright white, a visual sleight of hand he’s perfected over the years.
“I started with traditional brown, black and green patinas,” he says, “but it made the ‘paper’ look like bronze, so I tried a white patina—totally opaque, all over the bronze, covering it up and hiding it—and it was blasphemy.”
The shock settled, one of his co-workers said, “’What are you doing? It looks like paper!’ I was like, eureka.”
He then aimed to be in as many art shows as possible. It was during one of those exhibits that somebody told him his pieces were reminiscent of origami. Box, the consummate paper man, hadn’t yet put the two together.
“I really didn’t get it,” he says. His works then were geometric symbols that reflected a personal desire to “describe the architecture of the soul.”
People around him kept pushing the term and origami-centric books for Christmas and birthdays became the norm until he caved in.
Box remembers stopping halfway during his first attempt, reconsidering its artistic merits and slowly unfolding the piece. The results were reminiscent of his earlier, philosophical pieces.
“When I unfolded it, there was this perfect mandala, this star inside,” he says, “and I thought, ‘[My work] is like origami, but it’s like origami on the inside—I can use this’—you know, I can take something that’s culturally arty in the landscape that people identify with.”
Something like paper cranes, a world symbol for peace that Box explains, once it’s unfolded “you can see how peace was achieved—though choices—and those choices look like a beautiful star.”
His Zen approach can be seen in the collection to be unveiled this Sunday to the public. It’s composed by several of the graceful birds, paper boats, a harras of colorful ponies and a life-sized white bison—a collaboration with Robert Lang, one of the world’s foremost origami artists.
As far as the star analogy, it proves to be a good pickup line as well.
“I met my wife at an opening at the Inn at the Loretto,” Box says with a smile. “I told her about a crane unfolding into a star and how beautiful we were on the inside, and she was like, ‘Oh boy.’”