Into the woods

There’s a lovely air of serenity about Kaya Deckelbaum, the Hastings-on-Hudson sculptor who welcomes WAG on a chilly spring morning.

But like the forest that she’s creating out of wire mesh in her home studio —
destined to serve as the centerpiece of an exhibition in Cold Spring this month — there are many layers to her story.

It’s one that’s taken her from her native Bulgaria to Israel, Canada and Africa, each step of her life journey inspiring her deeply nuanced work.

But these creations, explorations in clay, bronze and more recently wire mesh, are not the work of a longtime artist.

No, Deckelbaum — who received international recognition this past autumn with the Lorenzo II Magnifico 2nd prize for sculpting at the Florence Biennale 2015 — only began creating art some nine years ago.

Long “good with” her hands, she says she wanted to explore a creative outlet. A private lesson, in clay, led to an awakening that spurred her ever forward.

“Once I discovered it, it just filled me up. It was an eruption of pleasure really. It really filled my soul with art. It was a whole new world opened up to me.”

And she has been exploring that world, exhibiting and selling her work ever since. She might be inspired by a tribal gathering in Africa or a Japanese mask or perhaps even a piece of wood.

Her home serves as a gallery of her work and its evolution. Wire-mesh works include horses and masks, faces and couples, with clay and bronzes devoted to heads, figures and even whimsical scenes such as one depicting a (very revealing) cowboy.

“I call it ‘The Morning After. He’s left with only his boots and a hat.”

IN WIRE

It is, though, in her wire-mesh work that Deckelbaum has finally found her preferred medium.

“An Israeli friend introduced me to the wire mesh. …The wire mesh really becomes part of the environment. You can look at it, and you can look through it.”

It’s not a traditional choice, but rather, she notes, “an industrial material.”

“It comes in big rolls, and I work it all by hand. …Sometimes I wear gloves but mostly, I don’t.”

After all, for “the little touches, I really need my fingers.”

Deckelbaum shows a visitor a roll of the wire mesh, cutting off a piece and then applying the tools she has cobbled together — by necessity — from everyday items including a wooden spoon.

“There is nothing for it,” she says of the lack of dedicated tools.

The process also includes using a sealant and sometimes paint, which pools in parts to create a sparkly effect that, in her forest work, Deckelbaum likens to stars.

“I’m giving you a recipe here,” she says with a laugh.

But one knows it would be near impossible to do what her agile fingers do, especially because her work, and method, is so personal.

“I don’t know how to draw,” she says. “I can draw a house with a roof and a chimney and the smoke and a fence — but that is all.”

She was at first frustrated but then realized what was to be her way.

“I couldn’t put on paper what I saw. It just comes from my head, to my hands and into the sculpture.”

SHADOW PLAY

But there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Shadows cast by her sculptures add another dimension — and in effect complete the work.

“I wanted to see more detail,” she says, so she began integrating light a few years ago, now regularly working with a light designer. “We create the shadows, which actually create a fourth dimension on the wall.”

The effect will be clear during “Spirits and Shadows,” which opens May 6 at Gallery 66 NY. The exhibition will feature both the wire and shadow sculptures of Deckelbaum and the sacred poem paper sculptures of Carole Kunstadt.

Gallery 66 NY director and curator Barbara Galazzo says she first saw Deckelbaum’s work some seven years ago and has been a fan ever since.

“The most striking thing about Kaya is her ability to sculpt the wire by hand,” she says. “It is not done over a mold, it all comes from her mind and fingers. Now that she has added lighting it takes her sculptures to such a gigantic stature on the wall with the shadows it creates. You have the original sculpture, but you also get the shadow sculpture, which often shows more detail than you see in the original wire piece.”

Galazzo, who has worked with Deckelbaum before, says this show will be special.

“I love her work and am excited to show any of her series, but I especially think the spirits and shadows of the forest will be amazing. Kaya is one of those artists whose work you want to collect now because she is rising in popularity all across the globe.  I feel very fortunate to have her exhibit here.”

Deckelbaum — who first exhibited in Pittsburgh and has gone on to show in Westchester County, as well as New York City, Florida and Israel — presented “The Spirit” to the people of Bulgaria in a November ceremony held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sofia. The work was created to honor the way Bulgaria stood up to Nazi Germany during World War II.

A SHOW NEARS

Back in the studio is where Deckelbaum creates it all, often with classical music — and a few “characters” — for company.

“I want to introduce you to my husband,” she says, pointing to a wire work of her husband, a physician affiliated with Columbia University. “That is Richard.”

It was his work with The Flying Doctors in Zambia that brought the family to Africa and Deckelbaum, a mother of four, so much inspiration.

Natural sources continue to inspire, with some pieces incorporating wood, including driftwood collected near her family’s cottage in British Columbia.

“When we were camping there I woke up in the morning and there was a mountain of driftwood.”

It soon became part of some sculptures, giving “warmth,” she says.

A drive to Cold Spring actually sparked the idea of the forest work, but it took her a little time to determine her approach.

Finally, “I said ‘No. Don’t recreate nature. God did a good job. You create art.’”

And she has, with this tour-de-force work featuring some elements that top 55 inches in height.

On this day, as she shines a light on the work nearing completion, her imagination takes over.

“The forest, it’s really special… I see legs and a person, maybe an arm, someone dancing, maybe an animal…”

She encourages visitors to spend time with her work, sitting and letting their own minds wander.

“I think there is something special to my art. I think it’s not something right away you see what it is. You have to put yourself into it.”

Someone might remember time spent in actual forests. Others may be moved to remember, Deckelbaum says, “things you have lived through.”

“There is so much you can discover.”

An opening reception for “Spirits and Shadows” will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. May 6 at Gallery 66 NY in Cold Spring, with the exhibition continuing through May 29. For more, visit kayadeckelbaum.com or gallery66ny.com.

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