By Lance Gurwell
Wayne Kilbourn is an artist; that much is clear. But he doesn’t easily fit into a niche. For example, he’s not a landscape painter. It might be easiest to say he’s a sculptor, but even here his work doesn’t fit the definition of the classic sculptor.
He infrequently chips away at rock; he’s more likely to be hammering copper, or shaping stainless steel. The recent acquisition of a glass kiln has added a new element to his art, further complicating a classification. Actually, as the years went by, his artistic specialties segued from one form to the next, although he rarely completely eliminated one form for another. Most likely, he married it to his other skills.
“I never went to any art school, or had any formal training,” Kilbourn said while displaying two pieces of work he did for a local orthodontist. “I guess the artistic element ran in the family; we’re all painters, artists or craftspeople of some sort.”
He grew up in upstate New York, near Albany, where his father was a dentist who loved jewelry making, stained glass work, and painting in a variety of mediums. His mother is also a very accomplished painter. A brother is a blacksmith, but is also a sculptor and wood carver, and a sister is a seamstress and a painter.
Kilbourn said that for years he’d go to various art and craft shows and look at the pieces and think to himself, “That looks like fun; I bet I could make a living doing that.” His first attempt at being a self-employed artist was in New York, where he haunted the old boat shops along the Hudson River.
“My first artwork had a nautical theme,” Kilbourn said. “I’d scavenge stuff from the docks or wherever, turn them into art, and sell them at various shows in the area.”
Blame it on a woman
Kilbourn spent time in Phoenix in the early 1970s, where he was a civil draftsman, but decided to return to New York. Time has clouded the memories some, but he was at an art show in the Midwest when love stepped in and turned his life upside down, he said.
“I met this woman; she wanted me to see Denver and meet her mother,” he recalled. The relationship lasted about 60 days, but his love of the region remained strong and he decided to relocate to the Mile High City.
“I did a couple of art shows out here, saw some opportunity, and I liked it here, so I decided to stay,” he said. “It was a little slow at the beginning, but Denver was turning around economically. Before long, things picked up and I started getting a lot of referrals.”
Water features were in vogue at the time, and that soon became a Kilbourn specialty.
“I made a lot of beautiful fountains, but I soon got tired of being responsible for plumbing and so forth, and I also wanted to move into high-end architectural signage,” Kilbourn said. He didn’t completely abandon his fountain work.
A Cherry Hills project displayed in his portfolio is extremely futuristic. The design might’ve been at home on the set of “Star Trek.” The tubes and rods protruding from this eclectic electronic orb vibrate with color; some glow gently, others pulse and flash, as if preparing the pod for a trip back to the mother ship.
The effect worked perfectly against the glass wall blocks on a dark night. Unfortunately, one homeowner’s taste in art can be another’s boat anchor; sadly, this exercise in orbology no longer greets earthlings who visit the home.
“I removed it for the new homeowner. I still have it; maybe I’ll sell it on eBay,” he joked.
Another of the artist’s large exterior signage pieces can be seen on Stage Run Road, at the entrance to Briargate on Main, an apartment complex in Parker. Again, artistic interpretation is best left to the artist and individual observer; this outsized piece of kinetic stainless steel and painted metal has many elements and possible interpretations.
Kilbourn said versatility is necessary to make a living in the highly competitive world of art. It’s especially true if you’re an independent artist creating one-off pieces that might be used as corporate logos, in business signage or as decorations for homes and offices.
For example, Kilbourn has recently been working on art surrounding a lap pool in a client’s home in San Diego. Featuring sculptured glass, it’s designed to look like waves, as the swimmer performs his exercise.
His ability to hammer metals into unique shapes and chemically age them, or give them desired patinas, gives him an edge in making corporate signs. A new market Kilbourn hopes to crack is developing art or corporate logos for the aircraft industry. He believes his state-of-the-art glass kiln will give him an edge in this trendy field. He plans to display some glass projects at a number of Business Aircraft & Jet Previews coming up soon.
The glass furnace will let him marry metal and glass, as well as perform glasswork not possible without the kiln, Kilbourn said.
“For example, you can tack pieces of glass together; you can take several sheets of glass sandwich style, and mold and bend them into almost limitless shapes,” Kilbourn said excitedly.
While the Castle Rock resident can develop art or signage projects for cutting edge companies, he remains something of a Luddite when it comes to personal technology. He does use a cell phone, but he remains computer-free. That means he has no website, no email, and none of the high-tech problems suffered by the computer-savvy crowd.
For more information, call Wayne Kilbourn at 720-938-1844.