Profile, Kent Krugh

By Jane Durrell

Curiosity – that need to know what would happen if???? – can be a driving force for both creative and scientific ends. Artist/scientist Kent Krugh is a nimble practitioner in both fields.

Krugh has been a visible presence in the Cincinnati region’s FotoFocus this fall with a solo show, three group shows and three images included in Manifest Gallery’s INPHA book. Aaron Betsky, Anthony Luensman and Tina Tammaro awarded him “Best of Show” in the Clifton Cultural Arts Center’s exhibition Golden Ticket 3 and he also won “Best of Show” at the Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center in Covington last month. He will be in a group exhibition there in April.

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The soloshow took place in Mason’s Pop Revolution Gallery.

Krugh sees his photography as tapping into wholly different brain areas than those used for his day job as a medical physicist (right brain/left brain syndrome, he suggests), but his consuming interest in “what would happen if” surely led him into science in the first place and now propels him in increasingly individual approaches to photography. In a statement for his web site he says he has “an instinctive urge to create, to alter, to record” and also suggests his photographs “commemorate my fears and wonders.” A large order, but the body of work speaks directly to these aims. I own a photograph from Krugh’s most recent series, essentially a group of individual portraits of particular trees. Often, when I give this work close attention, it rewards me with something I’ve not seen before.

Krugh has made photographs almost as long as he can remember. As a boy of twelve or thirteen he was experimenting with extreme close ups of his model cars. Later, as a college undergraduate, he took two photography darkroom courses, perhaps more frequently found in the syllabus of liberal arts majors. Still later, adult, married, a parent, and a practicing scientist, he became obsessed with photographing roses. Not until 2008, in his early 50s, did he show his work.

The first solo exhibition took place in the fall of that year, at Findlay Market’s Internet Café, with what he found to be encouraging assistance from Findlay’s Marketing Director, Cheryl Eagleson. Another mentor, as he broadens his outlook, is Art Academy instructor Lisa Britton, whose digital photo salon has been an important step for him. He also mentions photographer Judi Parks as an adviser in the fine art world. “So interesting, so new to me. I need guidance.”

Krugh grew up with his family on his grandparents’ farm in northern Ohio, an experience that marks his work in both apparent and subtle ways. He is intensely aware of the natural world, speaks of his grandfather’s being “attuned to weather” and remembers orderly rows of planted corn, the roses of his grandmother’s garden. A religious upbringing, he says, allows him “to embrace the notion of a universe created and sustained by a supreme being.” After completing undergraduate work at Ohio Northern University, a private Methodist school, Krugh came to the University of Cincinnati for a graduate degree and has been here ever since.

Several series of works are currently in his portfolio. Individual prints are usually large (my own example is approximately thirteen inches by twenty inches), in black and white buttressed by a range of subtle grays. The “Higher Ground” series is touched by yellow for the recurring image of the tree fruit called Osage Orange. A half dozen years ago Krugh began doing his own printing with specialty inks and techniques that he seemingly has developed himself. In dutiful journalistic mode I asked questions designed to explore his methods but didn’t get far. Krugh’s methods are individual, frequently altered, and not for publication. I did learn that the dreamy, sometimes almost lacy backgrounds for the current Trees series (officially called “Inside the Gate”) are the result of multiple images superimposed on one another. The effect is close to etchings.

Format is important. All the tree images are restfully horizontal; a series taken within the confines of a lighthouse are square, as are the “Higher Ground” works; the series called “Spectral” reflects the vertical orientation of its subjects.

Krugh “enjoys the process” he says, a process that can mean taking cameras apart and fitting them out in new ways. He has added parts of an old Brownie to a modern digital camera, played with selective focus and done things with a zoom lens that lost me half way through the description.

The “Spectral” series, begun in the spring of 2010, brings a new image to the fore. Using small souvenir dolls, once his two daughters’ possessions but long since consigned to a cardboard box in the basement, Krugh has produced an unnerving, hazy but compelling group of works that suggests an other-worldly ambiance. Film is employed, and a high energy X Ray, and certain other elements the photographer has introduced on his own. “Porcelain shows up in the prints,” he says. “Clay makes a different image. Cloth doesn’t produce detail.” The single Barbie doll is marvelously symmetrical and has a fine flow of hair, kitsch gone and line triumphant.

Krugh’s “Lighthouse” series had its impetus when the photographer, bored at the beach, left his wife and daughters still sunning and set off to see what might be interesting nearby. A restored lighthouse proved extremely interesting. He liked the texture of the brick walls, he liked the curve of the stair, he liked the way the windows were set. In this series Krugh’s delight in composition and pleasure in a surprise arrangement show more clearly than in any other. I particularly admire “Lighthouse #21,” in which the spiral stair is a network curving upward with little visible means of support.

Patterns are also apparent in the series “Angel Oak,” a record of the nearly 1500 year old tree still standing on John’s Island, near Charleston on the Carolina coast. The ancient branches twist on themselves like memories crossing in the mind and present this photographer with exactly the intricate interaction he wants to record.

Krugh has an individual eye and a constantly expanding technique. He is finding his “quantum leap into the fine art world” exciting. He now has a studio at Pendleton Center in Over-the-Rhine. “Pendleton is full of artists,” he says with pleasure. Last spring he attended an international gathering in Houston for portfolio review by curators, gallery directors, collectors and publishers. The result was several sales and a show to take place next year.

The scientist/artist and his wife Valerie, an educator, live in Fairfield.. A relatively new grandfather, Krugh has at the request of one of his daughters taken on care of his year-old grandson on Mondays. When negotiating with his employers for four 10-hour days as his work week he had originally planned to use that day forphotography, but he says the switch has been immensely satisfying. “It’s like learning all over again. My grandson is learning brand new things every day, and I’m like him. It’s the same process.”

Krugh continues to be curious. Only a few weeks ago he was in Woodstock, New York, taking part in a workshop to learn how to make tin types. Tin types? Yes. He’s enthusiastic. “They’re one of a kind, like a painting. The tonality is gorgeous!”
Tin types, perhaps, are the next thing Krugh will be showing.

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