WATHA T. DANIEL SHAW

NEIGHBORHOOD PUBLIC LIBRARY, WASHINGTON D.C.

Kraft had lived in the Shaw neighborhood for the past 13 years. During that time, he witnessed the neighborhood transition from one categorized by urban blight to one of revitalization and growing prosperity. Once defined by despair and danger, Shaw has begun to evolve through a renaissance of development and hope. As the neighborhood’s past history illustrates, Shaw was once home to numerous Jazz artists beyond Duke Ellington and saw the genesis of the musical genre of Jazz emerge from its houses and storefronts. Although Shaw is known for its tough edge, artists of all types have long called Shaw their home, long before the recent redevelopment efforts.

 

The Watha T. Daniel Library is an exceptional and appropriate landmark for Shaw. The incorporation of Jazz as the central theme and identifying characteristic of the building and the public sculpture is an ideal expression of Shaw’s rich cultural heritage and spirit of creativity and rebirth. This sculpture embodies the spirit of creativity, vibrancy and color that once filled the Shaw neighborhood, offering optimism for our neighborhood’s future.

 

Like Jazz, Vivace embodies freedom and inspiration as well as a carefully crafted composition of form and color. Both are characterized by an absolute focus and relaxation of a rigid structure or standard. Vivace was inspired by the innate and evolutionary power and perseverance of the art of Jazz. This inspiration is based on a keen sense of the power of public sculpture, yet can be characterized as fresh and original. There is a sense of the simultaneous pleasure of vivid, colorful form and open space. Like Jazz, Vivace strives to push our sensory limits into new arenas and new context, such as in front of a public library.

 

As an intensely colored voluminous line in space, there is nothing that compares with neon mounted on three-dimensional rolled metal tubing (an innovative technique developed by Craig Kraft). Jazz and neon are intertwined historically as well. Both emerged in American culture in the first few decades of the 20th century. Duke Ellington established his first band in the District of Columbia in 1917, while in France neon was gathering public acclaim. By 1923 neon had traveled from France to Los Angeles and then quickly moved to New York, Las Vegas and beyond. In the following years Jazz and neon grew in both expressiveness and influence, becoming popularized in the mainstream and public appreciation. Neon light and Jazz are a natural pair as they both come alive and are most vibrant at night. In jazz clubs throughout the world Jazz has traditionally been bathed in the glow of neon light. The unique site of the Watha T. Daniel Library offers an ideal stage to showcase both the historical significance of Jazz and the connections to neon as a sculptural medium.

DC!, WASHINGTON, D.C.

DC! was commissioned by the District of Columbia Arts and Humanities for the 202 Arts and Music Festival in August, 2017 at the Randall Athletic Field in Washington D.C. The installation stands 11' high and spans 21' wide. This artistic process was inspired by the random selection method originally developed by John Cage in the 50's. Tubes were selected randomly from my 25 year old collection of rejected, collected and donated neon tubes. They were then placed onto the 5' x 5' steel tubing and mesh structures without regard to composition. This method results in a colorful, spontaneous and arresting light sculpture.

COMMISSIONED BY MONTGOMERY COUNTY MARYLAND FOR THE SILVER SPRING DEVELOPMENT PROJECT

(Art Consultant: Francoise Yohalem)

Lightweb uses an architectural structure to create a large-scale light work, configuring rolled aluminum and neon tubing around an exterior elevator tower. Curved strokes of blue, green, and red neon light are beamed around the tower, giving a sense of fluid three-dimensionality. According to Kraft, the sculptural effect was a challenge to fabricate; "three-dimensional neon-lit sculpture on this scale is hard to find because of the difficulty in constructing a three-dimensional structure capable of securely holding fragile glass neon tubes." Kraft developed the design before the building itself was constructed. Using architectural drawings and models, he acheived the integration of "three-dimensional line and volumes of light with an open rectilinear structure."


The illuminated works of Cork Marcheschi, Stephen Antonakos, Dan Flavin, and Keith Sonnier influenced Kraft's design, but the real impetus came from the unique structural challenge and the desire to integrate art and architecture. The synthesis may be viewed as symbolic of a rejuvenated community center. Kraft explains "The plaza now has a sculptural mark, more than just marking a location. The image suggests importance, integration, vitality, and energy-a place where the community can come together and recognize each other.​

COMMISSIONED BY ARCH DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION AND THE HONFLEUR GALLERY, WASHINGTON D.C.

Random Neons for Anacostia was inspired by the random selection process originally developed by composer John Cage in the 1950s. Existing tubes in various shapes and colors were photographed, printed and cut out to the scale of the installation site. These maquettes were tossed in the air over a photograph of the building. Wherever they landed became the installation plan. The method captured a type of randomness, unpredictability and elements of surprise.

COMMISSIONED BY THE ARLINGTON ARTS CENTER, ARLINGTON, VA 

(Curator: Stephen Phillips) 

Stephen Phillips, of the Phillips collection selected this work for the grand reopening of the Arlington Arts Center in 2006. The piece utilizes both the lyrical drawn line of neon and aluminum combined with the volume of light generated in the center alcove.

FALLING MAN, THE CELL THEATER NYC

Completed in 1995, the life-sized Falling Man is a negative cast, illuminated by hidden neon tubes on the edge of the figure. Falling Man has journeyed around the world, part of the exhibitions and installations on prominent buildings, including:

 

  • New York, NY, The Cell, 1996

  • Long Island City, NY, “Pop Ups,” Socrates Sculpture Park, 1995

  • St. Petersburg, FL., Solo Exhibit, St. Petersburg Fine Arts Museum, 1996

  • Providence RI. Sculpture Festival, Rhode Island School of Design, 1997

  • Washington, DC, various sites, 1999, 2001, 2003

  • Busan S.Korea, Busan Bienale, 2004

  • Merida, Yucatan, Mexico, Hermandades Escultoricas, Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, 2005

CROSSROADS, ROCKVILLE TOWN SQUARE, ROCKVILLE, MD

As a city and as a community, Rockville has embraced its past as well as its future and has emerged as a catalyst for change in the region. With a vital and important history and a vision of development and progress Rockville is poised to embrace the future, as exemplified by the new Rockville Town Square.

 

Rockville is and has always been an important crossroads. In its earliest days Rockville became the stopover where north-south paths from the Susquehanna River Valley to Rock Creek crossed the east-west trail from Anacostia to the Potomac. Situated on the “Great Road” between Frederick and Georgetown, Rockville became a transportation hub, and eventually a place where travelers settled and a town emerged. The Rockville of today still represents a great crossroads of not only geography, but also as the center point of a vibrant economy, an internationally diverse population, the municipal and civic leadership of Montgomery County and a vital cultural and educational learning center. These various crossroads best describe Rockville, and my proposed site-specific neon light sculpture captures the spirit, significance and vision that are Rockville today.

 

With an approach that is a literal and figurative interpretation of these ideas, Crossroads illuminates what is unique about the new Rockville Town Square, and project a vision of Rockville’s future. Light as a medium has a contradictory nature, it exists somewhere between tangible and intangible, substantial and insubstantial. It is this contradictory nature of light that draws viewers in, captivates them and ignites their imagination, qualities that will most significantly enhance the new Rockville Town Square. Inspired by Rockville’s past and present, Crossroads will become a symbol of the optimism and growth of Rockville’s future.

CONNECTIVE ASCENSION, LOVELAND, CO. EMBASSY SUITES

FIRE AND WATER, CHARLOTTE-CONCORD, N.C. EMBASSY SUITES

Fire and Water

Connective Ascension stands 16’ tall and is composed of powder coated and rolled aluminum tubes and neon, joined by hand formed connective webs. It is sited in a fountain which is the center piece of a 10 story atrium. The piece was created and fabricated by Craig Kraft in his Washington DC studio and installed in March, 2009.

Connective Ascension

Fire and Water was commissioned by the Embassy Suites Hotel in Concord, North Carolina. The sculpture emerges out from a pool of water arching skyward to be seen from 13 floors above.

UNINTENTIONAL DRAWINGS, COMMISSIONED BY THE DC COMMISSION ON THE ARTS AND HUMANITIES CONVENTION CENTER, WASHINGTON D.C.

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I had an epiphany. I rediscovered a series of doodles or scribbles that I had been creating all my artistic life. These doodles were folded away in drawers on scraps of paper, newspapers, and other project folders. They hung in my closet directly on the pant legs of my jeans. Created while concentrating on something else, the drawings flowed unconsciously and uncontrollably from my hands to the closest writing surface. Characterized by freshness and fluidity and wrought with implied meanings, they were created without preconceived notions or intent to exhibit. I consider them to be “found objects” not unlike the cave paintings that the surrealist artist Brassaï photographed and then titled Unintentional Poetry in the 1930s. The doodles draw attention to the small voices within us, the nuances of the mind that mostly go ignored or unrecognized. I took these doodles, increased their scale, drew patterns from them, and transformed them into neon drawings. Almost incidentally, I decided to show the reverse side of these works that reveals the mechanics of the pieces. They are run by over 30 transformers, generating 270,000 volts of electricity. The power of neon transforms the forgotten into the remembered. The Unintentional Drawings are no longer small and insignificant; they now stand on their own as momentous and meaningful. I am reminded of Brassaï's observation that “beauty is not the goal of art, but its reward.”​

Craig Kraft