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posted: 12/1/2015 5:33 AM

Naperville sculptor makes a giant out of railroad recyclables

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  • Video: Naperville artist Paul Kuhn

  • Paul Kuhn created hanging tree ring ornaments from a hollowed out tree on his Naperville property.

      Paul Kuhn created hanging tree ring ornaments from a hollowed out tree on his Naperville property.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Paul Kuhn likes to repurpose items which occur naturally into pieces of art. Above, Kuhn adjusts various tree rings he cut and hung like holiday ornaments from a hollowed-out tree on his Naperville property.

      Paul Kuhn likes to repurpose items which occur naturally into pieces of art. Above, Kuhn adjusts various tree rings he cut and hung like holiday ornaments from a hollowed-out tree on his Naperville property.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Naperville artist Paul Kuhn welds recycled chain into a base for a future project.

      Naperville artist Paul Kuhn welds recycled chain into a base for a future project.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

 
 

Artist Paul Kuhn of Naperville had been painting for years, but he always found himself intrigued by giants.

"I had been painting and painting and painting, and finally I got the bug in me to work with a sculpture. I kind of went with a big one for my first big project," Kuhn said.

"Hemlock," a 17-foot-tall giant Kuhn created in his backyard, has catapulted him to becoming a full-time artist. Ironically, Kuhn created Hemlock using recycled components from his former full-time job working for a railroad salvage company.

"I started thinking, 'Hey, that's a good forearm,' and, 'Hey, that's a good femur bone.' So I started collecting all these pieces of steel to make the skeleton, started welding it, and before I knew it, a year and a half went by and Hemlock was finished," Kuhn said.

The giant Hemlock is a constant reminder of how Kuhn brought sculpture into his life, giving him the balance and ability to pursue his dream of becoming a full-time artist.

It also led Kuhn to be selected by the Naperville Century Walk to construct the "Tragedy to Triumph" railroad memorial in April 2014 at the Naperville Metra station. Kuhn says he welded about 5,000 railroad spikes in the image of three people, each weighing around 2,500 pounds, all anchored in a 64,000-pound concrete base.

Naperville artist Paul Kuhn's fascination with giants inspired him to create "Hemlock," a 17-foot sculpture composed of recycled railroad salvage parts.
  Naperville artist Paul Kuhn's fascination with giants inspired him to create "Hemlock," a 17-foot sculpture composed of recycled railroad salvage parts. - Daniel White | Staff Photographer

Over the summer Kuhn participated in the Downtown Naperville Alliance's annual sculpture program, working from his Twelve Limbs Art Studio with guest artist Luke Salvesen.

All the artists involved were given a blank all-white fiberglass car as their canvas for creativity. Kuhn, who was sponsored by Riverwalk Family Dental, blended his passion for abstract art, as he freely painted a background on the car that would set the foundation for his more precise and detailed work of his favorite 1950s and '60s cartoon characters.

Working from his Twelve Limbs Art Studio, Paul Kuhn touches up a car that was displayed in the downtown Naperville's sculpture program.
  Working from his Twelve Limbs Art Studio, Paul Kuhn touches up a car that was displayed in the downtown Naperville's sculpture program. - Daniel White | Staff Photographer

"I knew what colors I wanted, but I didn't really get too specific in what I wanted it to look like. I just let it happen," said Kuhn, a 2003 graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Balance is how Kuhn describes his sense of himself and what he can accomplish through various art media.

"There's also a balance of precision and also quick, more free and more natural work. So, while I love working on wood projects that are precise -- and you measure and remeasure and you cut -- I also like getting the chain saw out, ripping through a log and making quick, fast furniture or other art that's less precise," Kuhn said.

Kuhn finds balance in painting as well.

Naperville artist Paul Kuhn stands in front of "Release," a triptych three-panel spray paint and acrylic piece. Kuhn says he likes to find a balance between precise pieces and more free-form, abstract work.
  Naperville artist Paul Kuhn stands in front of "Release," a triptych three-panel spray paint and acrylic piece. Kuhn says he likes to find a balance between precise pieces and more free-form, abstract work. - Daniel White | Staff Photographer

"You can paint something that's realistic and it's a figure of a person, or you can throw paint at a canvas and let out some steam and just have gravity do the work. Finding the balance between precision and just being free and letting things happen naturally is really important to me," Kuhn said.

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