Darren Kling Merges Lived Experience & Philosophy of Life as He Paints a Picture

(Split (diptych), oil on framed hardboard, 24”x29.5” by Darren Kling)

Darren Kling is regionally known as the sole proprietor of Big Sky Balloon Co. and somewhat famously known as the first person to fly over Glacier National Park in a hot air balloon. As a balloonist, Darren has been flying low and high for 27 years. Such an unconventional profession has shaped Darren’s perspective in unique ways, ways that those of us who have never and will never experience a hot air balloon ride, especially on a regular basis or as a pilot, can even imagine! Couple such life events with a desire to share them artistically, and the result is sure to be just as unique as the experiences themselves. Such is the case with respect to Darren’s debut at Lighter Than Air Gallery in Redmond where Water & The Rock, his exhibit of landscape-based, abstract oil paintings, unites both his lived experience and philosophy of life as product and process. 

In Water & The Rock, Darren invites the viewer to consider his or her own perspective in relation to the often uncertain position of the subject matter, ostensibly, as the show’s title suggests, water and rock. A series of about twenty small format oil paintings, some executed en plein air, or outdoors, clearly depict craggy outcrops or singular pinnacles, but it is in Darren’s larger format works that the viewer is more visually challenged with respect to said subject matter. In these paintings, rocky surfaces and passages of water seem to appear but are then effaced by overlapping veils of pigment strewn across the wooden substrate, creating a stratified yet textureless effect. Paint is smeared, squeegeed, sanded, and brushed in thin layers causing foreground and background distinctions to often disappear as transparency and opacity mingle. Fractured surfaces invite investigation; color variations create space. Perhaps most significantly, never does the viewer feel rooted to the earth when viewing these paintings, just as one might expect from a balloonist. Like a specter, one floats, hovering, face-to-face with elemental nature: rock, water, wind and sky.

Until you are able to experience Water & The Rock for yourself, the following interview with Darren may offer some insights into his art and its relationship to his career as a balloonist. We met at Lighter Than Air Gallery, surrounded by the artist’s many works, and chatted again by phone, specifically exploring the connections among art, experience and philosophy of life.

Ken: What do you see as the connection between your art and your life as a balloonist, particularly in terms of perspective, artistic or philosophical?

Darren: There are a couple different analogies that have come to me over the years, thinking about the two things, life and art. As a balloonist, one of the most common questions I get is, “How do you know where you’re going to land?” My answer: “I don’t.”

Ken: That’s rather disconcerting!

Darren: Yes, but I draw a parallel between this question and life in general: How do any of us know where we’re going to end up? The best we can do is set our intention for what we want and do our best to get there. Despite our best intentions, however, we can end up somewhere totally different. In my painting, I get started but have no idea where it’s going to end. At some point I just have to step away from it. In ballooning, I’ve got places where I’d like to land, and I do what I can within my power to make that happen. If I end up there, great, but I’m dealing with elements and powers that are much greater than me. The best I can do is work with those things. I’m always seeking a state of flow! 

Ken: “Flow” seems like an apt metaphor considering your line of work. 

Darren: As a balloonist, I’m working with the flow of air currents. Winds move at different speeds and directions at different altitudes. I can’t control them, but I can work with them. My control is only vertical, and I believe it’s important to relinquish some of that control to greater forces because when you do, discoveries are made, surprises come up. When you’re willing to let go and allow things to happen rather than force things to happen, that’s the state of flow. 

Ken: Since the landscape is a prominent source of inspiration for your paintings, how does it figure into this notion of relinquishing control, or flow?

Darren: The landscape itself greatly affects wind direction. Air travels over the ground as a river does; you can’t see the air but you can see the water. Because of my many years of experience as a balloonist, I know how topographical elements influence wind direction, and I work with them, not against them. Everything is in motion, whether detectable or not. The same goes for painting. I know my materials and remain open to the known and unknown influences that arise during the course of making a painting. I allow the image to emerge.

Ken: And what of your title: Water & The Rock? I can’t help but notice that you use the definitive article, “The,” capitalized nonetheless, as if your “Rock” stands for something more than just an element in the landscape, one among many.

Darren: Yes, I don’t intend it as a singular thing. I mean it in the plural. “The Rock” stands for all rock.

Ken: Kind of like the concept of Everyman in the late 15th century English morality play that stands for all of humanity?

Darren: Exactly! It is the universal rock, one of nature’s major elements, that, like water, persists over time yet is subject to the forces of erosion from water and wind. Everything is in relationship, and it is the merging of these relationships that I seek to abstractly suggest in my paintings, capturing, albeit briefly, their state of flow.

To view Darren Kling’s paintings, please visit Lighter Than Air Gallery in Redmond, located at 611 NE Jackpine Ct., Suite #3. Appointments recommended; call 541-316-0362 or email lighterthanairgallery@gmail.com. You may also view Darren’s art on his website at darrenklingart.net.

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