Story and Photos by Mark Graven
Strolling around the CNM Main Campus, these days, you won’t run into many people, if any, with whom to talk. But you might encounter a monumental 5-piece sculpture that will speak to you, if you are willing to listen.
The sculpture is entitled “Growing Strength,” by New Mexico artist Karen Yank. It was installed on the west side of The Student Resource Center building in 2017, as part of the Art in Public Places program of the New Mexico Department of Cultual Affairs. Yank won the commission in a competitive process.
Contacted at her home/studio in the Turquoise trail region between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, Yank said, that the message the sculpture bears these days, is that CNM students–indeed all New Mexicans have the “strength and resilience” to make it through the covid crisis, and be better people for it. And maybe better artists.
“It will be interesting to see what art comes out of the pandemic,” said Yank.
Yank said she gains inspiration from the the natural beauty of New Mexico–from its smallest flowers to its imposing mountains. She finds time to seek out places to medidate on the beauty of people and places in her surroundings, and then reflect them in her art.
A native of Wisconsin, she followed her father’s footsteps into art. He still lives and works 20 minutes outside of Milwaukee. Yank’s path has taken her to such places as New Jersey, New York City, and Maine.
Like Georgia O’Keeffe before her, she has settled on New Mexico for its natural beauty, and now considers herself “a southwestern artist.” Yank says O’Keeffe’s landscapes have inspired some of her imagery in her sculptures, but that people help and inspire her in diverse ways. CNM welding students helped construct two stainless benches that are considered part of the sculpture.
Stainless steel is also used in the larger pieces along with Cor-Ten, or weathered steel. Cor-Ten has the ability to rust, and then stop rusting, so that the rust patterns are frozen in time. Thus the sculpture itself will remain strong and resilient, according to Yank.
Yank said another New Mexico artist, Agnes Martin–who she met in Maine, and followed to New Mexico–has had a profound influence on her work. Yank said she is writing a book about Martin, who passed in 2004.
Yank said that, bottom line, she has gained insight and strength from both the people and places of New Mexico, and she wants to pass that message forward.