Rockne Krebs, 1938-2011

Though the obituary for Washington artist Rockne Krebs does not mention The Phillips Collection, the museum does own one of his works. It is not a laser light sculpture, but a freestanding chevron of Plexiglas, over five feet tall, titled No Land (1966). It was a gift of artist Sam Gilliam, his friend and former studio partner. Here is an excellent photo of the two of them together by photographer Carol Harrison:

Rockne Krebs and Sam Gilliam, 1984. Photo: Carol Harrison. Used by permission.

Rockne Krebs, No Land, 1966, Plexiglas, 66 1/2" high. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Gift of Sam Gilliam, 1980.

No Land hasn’t been on view for a good number of years. It has bands of color with a clear area in the middle where one can see through the sculpture. It changes as one looks at it. Sometimes it looks as if color came out of the ground, made a sharp angled turn (like a light beam bouncing off a mirror), then went back into the floor. Other times, it looks like a mountain. Influenced by Washington Color School painters, Krebs made something solid yet transparent, and not at all dependent on canvas or even a wall to hang it on. From this he went on to work primarily with light. One can see a hint of his light works in No Land, as he begins to give color its freedom.

Click here for more of Carol Harrison’s photos, featuring Washington D.C. artists.

To read an interview with Sam Gilliam that discusses Rockne Krebs, their work, artists’ community, and relationship, see this 1989 oral history transcript at the Archives of American Art.

Ianthe Gergel, Museum Assistant

6 thoughts on “Rockne Krebs, 1938-2011

  1. Part steampunk, part McGuyver, and all genius. This was Rockne Krebs. His live events drew the best and brightest. I recall after a show I assisted on in New York as part of a visual extension of the stage into the audience, being with Rockne as artist after artist came up to congratulate him, among them Isamu Noguchi and Robert Rauschenberg. He was an artist’s artist.

    Of all the people I have worked with, Rockne Krebs stood alone in his ability to envision light as a medium of form and substance that could extend the canvas into the realm of real space and envelope the viewer. I was fortunate to have collaborated with him on several occasions and unlike the purveyors of laser light shows, Rockne avoided the sophistication of electromechanical devices and chose to use his intellect and hand crafted tools to paint with the light of the laser. He chose to find his own path and was a true artisan in creating his own concepts and style unlike what anyone else was doing. Light years ahead of the pack, his work pioneered a new era in the use of laser light as a true artistic form and not as a mere technical stunt.

    He was generous with his knowledge and talent and always had wonderful stories to share. His influence will live on.

    • Jason- Thanks for sharing your memories Rockne Krebs. As I worked on this post, and as I’ve heard from those who’ve read it, I have been impressed by people’s memories of him and his work. He made quite an impact. I’m sad I didn’t get to see his light work in person.

    • An eloquent remembrance, Jason.
      Thank you for enlarging my understanding of Rockne’s work with lasers
      and for explaining his position in the Art World, beyond Washington.

      Rockne also had a complete grasp of Photography in an intuitive and technical sense,
      which made it quite a challenge to photograph him!

      ~ Carol Harrison

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  3. I had the great pleasure to be Rockne and Sam’s studio mate in the mid to late 70’s. Furthermore, my studio was the middle floor between them. Rockne was on the large expansive space on the bottom floor, with all of the windows covered so it was always setup for the immediacy of his light experiments with lenses, smoke,and laser. I remember the striking glint of reflected/refracted light that came from the part of the studio where he stored the Pie-Flower series of plexi-resin works.Sam was on the top floor with brilliant light filled walls with hundreds of feet of sopping wet canvas strung through the light-filled space …in various states of drying and recombination. Being in the middle floor meant that I had access to both artists …through their brilliance and the vernacular of each day. It was a great 5 year immersion for me as a young artist, one that has stayed with me throughout my life.
    John Dickson

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