Artist John Kenneth Melvin’s most recent sculpture was literally born on a layover. Returning to the United States from Cambodia—where he had unveiled Curbing Entropy, a work made of 10,000 upcycled plastic bottles—the artist learned that he’d been awarded a new commission, installed last month at Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, a resort in Puerto Rico. “I drew a blob on my iPhone while sitting in the airport,” Melvin recalls. He later used software to digitally engineer the drawing, which hints at a human form escaping a rocky enclosure, into three dimensions so it could be sliced up and fabricated as plywood slats, to be fitted together on-site. The result, which Melvin calls ManMtn, is a monumental 12.5-foot sculpture that will be installed this month across from the resort’s main entrance, marking its official reopening a year after Hurricane Maria forced it to shut.
The airport origin story is fitting for an artist who considers himself a nomad, having given up a permanent studio in favor of bouncing between residencies and commissions in places as far afield as China, Nevada, North Carolina, and the South of France. “My work tends to explore the relationship between nature and culture,” says Melvin, who was inspired by the geology of Puerto Rico to consider ideas about absence and presence. “Much of the island is riddled with limestone caverns, so it’s essentially hollow,” he says. “Also, the Puerto Rico Trench, just offshore, is actually the deepest point in the world after the Mariana Trench. In a way, the piece became about otherness—changing perceptions of what Puerto Rico is and what it isn’t.”
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