It takes the Workhouse Arts Center's Matthew Kiehl about six hours to get into the zone. His face will be inches from the paper, his senses tuned to the max in a pen-and-ink project that will take anywhere from five minutes to 385 hours to complete.
And for Kiehl, it takes concentration and isolation to get in the zone, and he works until exhaustion takes hold and he can no longer lift his pen. When it's going good, though, the pen becomes an extension of his emotions and creativity, and it's then, he says, that he feels God at work.
A native of Ballston Spa, NY, Kiehl received his B.A. in studio art from Messiah College in 2009, and is a practicing Anglican. He lives in Rose Hill with his wife, Gwenyth, and has worked 40-60 hours a week at the Workhouse since he was juried in a year ago.
Patch spoke with Kiehl from his studio in Building 5. His most recent collection "Craft & Character: An Exploration of Light" is inspired by his pursuit of finding meaning in Christianity.
Patch: What's the most time you've ever spent on a single drawing?
Kiehl: My piece "The testing of patience through the application of principles at various levels," took me 385 hours, which was about eight weeks for 30 hours a week. My drawings generally take a half-hour to two hours per square inch, depending on the size of the pen I'm working with.
Patch: When do you do your best work?
Kiehl: When I'm about six hours in. For me, time always goes by really fast and I really wish I had a 30 hour day, due to the way that I work, which is to exhaustion. It's a sort of therapy for me, and it builds my patience.
Some people say that I'm trying to escape from reality, but I think of it as a way for myself to truly engage in reality. It will really stretch my sensory perception. I'll hear birds while I work, and I usually wouldn't. I become aware of the give in the paper and I start to notice how pliable it is.
It's interesting - the most practiced Buddhists work to become so completely self-aware that their sensory perception is extended almost supernaturally. So, for me it becomes very joyful at that point, and sometimes it really does feel supernatural, and maybe that's God, because I'm then making marks that I feel are impossible.
Patch: What are you trying to say about religion in your work?
Kiehl: I really think of God as what other people might talk of as love or character, and a person who has character is someone who abides in God. When you have to care for someone, for example, and you have to make the decision to leave them or care for them, the inner voice inside of you that tells you to care for them - that is God.
Patch: How does your learning disability influence your work?
Kiehl: It's a language-based learning disability. I can read about 10 pages an hour. I took a typing class once—the worst idea I ever had—and at the end of the class I was up to typing 18 words a minute. The upside is that I absorb what I read. Because I have a slow thought process, I never get impatient working with a pen and ink like most people might.
Patch: Have you got any horror stories of working 100 hours on a piece and then screwing it up at the last minute?
Kiehl: No. I can cover them up. But it's interesting, because I often contemplate the permanency of our actions, and I find pen and ink is very symbolic of that.
See "Craft & Character: An Exploration of Light" until Aug. 5 in Building 5 of the Workhouse Arts Center.