(Left) LTA Collaborators Darren Kling & Arlin Ojeda. (Right) Solace | Painting by Darren Kling
Unsuspecting as it might be at this particular moment in time, a beautiful apparition in the form of an art gallery has gracefully landed from above and planted itself firmly in Redmond’s Jackpine Court business area, 611 NE Jackpine Ct., Suite #3 to be exact. Please welcome Lighter Than Air Gallery (LTA), the creative enterprise of Darren Kling, founder of Big Sky Balloon Company, and his collaborator, Arlin Ojeda.
A walk into Lighter Than Air, mere steps from Porter Brewing Co. (hint, hint!), offers a cultural reprieve from the industry-driven neighborhood that surrounds it. Spacious white walls provide ample breathing room for the landscape-based abstractions of Darren Kling himself. A gorgeous Steinway Grand Piano silently sits at the rear of the gallery, patiently awaiting the improvisational musings of Arlin, a treat to which attendees of LTA’s grand opening on June 19th were privy.
Darren’s exhibit, Water & The Rock, is a collection of oil paintings executed using an array of non-traditional techniques. The highly refined, textureless surfaces evolve from a series of thin layers, a process that is sometimes additive, sometimes subtractive. Each instance of paint application and removal reveals traces of what had come before, resulting in an accumulation of transparent and opaque layers evoking stratification. Clearly influenced by his 27 years as a hot air balloon pilot, Darren’s art invites the viewer to experience a fresh perspective that calls into question one’s sense of place. Rather than the aerial perspective one might expect from a balloonist, the artist surprises us with abstract imagery that evokes extreme proximity between viewer and subject, a perspective Darren attributes to living within the canyon walls of the Crooked River as well as to floating through them, their immensity consuming one’s entire view as a monumental Abstract Expressionist tableau. Other paintings offer a greater distance between spectator and landscape, where a distinct feeling of groundlessness displaces gravity. Up, up
This month’s Cascade A&E cover offers an entirely different perspective from that just described; rather than the bird’s eye view, we have the worm’s eye view. From a participant in the floating world of Darren’s paintings and actual balloon rides, we now become a spectator, watching from below as the pilot leaves terrestrial life and embraces an adventure of sky and wind. Photographed during the annual Balloons Over Bend event, Darren’s anti-gravity machine visually testifies to his mutual love for ballooning and painting. After executing numerous sketchbook studies to create an image indicative of his high-flying experience and artistic sensibility that also worked with the distortion inherent in the shape of the inflated balloon itself, the artist, wearing a respirator and protective clothing, engaged the painstaking process of image realization. The 432 panel balloon was painted in sections, six-to-seven vertical strips, or gores, at a time with industrial textile ink capable of adhering to its silicone coating. The result of these labors, the Artaloft Balloon, proudly signifies Darren’s capacity to find common ground between art and flight and, perhaps, our human capacity to do so between work and pleasure.
Lighter Than Air Gallery represents yet another iteration of this capacity, a unification of Kling’s passions where ballooning and painting merge with his many other talents like wood-working and designing. Through Darren’s efforts, the gallery’s poured concrete floors are now stylishly acid stained and its baseboard trimmed out with reclaimed oak, a hardwood that the craftsman distributes as well as uses to make frames for his art and furniture such as the gallery’s coffee table, end table and shelving. Adjacent to the gallery is Darren’s studio where all the creative and adventurous magic takes place, soon to be enjoyed by creative and adventurous clientele.
Imagine a day such as this: A morning gathering of family or friends in LTA parking lot, shuttle service to an unforgettable hot air balloon ride, a return to the gallery to view and perhaps purchase some incredible art or Big Sky Balloon Co. merch, a fine English Ale from Porter Brewing Co. and a tasty bite from the local food cart, both just outside LTA’s door. It’s a beautiful day in the Central Oregon neighborhood!
Balancing his many passions, Kling considers LTA Gallery a work-in-progress, although one well on its way. Warm, sunny weather in May through October equals ballooning season, and Darren often finds himself floating high in the sky or low in the canyons with his guests during this time. Although official gallery hours are 10am-5pm, Monday through Saturday, Darren suggests scheduling an appointment to ensure a warm reception since summer hours may vary as balloon rides take both him and us away. Appointments can be made by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 541-316-0362. Water & The Rock, the gallery’s premier exhibit, continues through September. Lighter Than Air Gallery is excited to join the local arts community and looks forward to creating new partnerships and collaborations that help broaden exposure and create new opportunities in the arts.