Jason Kehl was the first person to climb The Fly, a rock climb in Rumney, N.H., known as one of the nation's most difficult, without a rope.
Preparing art for venues such as Colorado Springs's OpticalReverb Gallery may seem an unrelated endeavor, but it's actually linked by Kehl's fascination with the physical world.
"That's a big reason why I climb: to see things and to be in an interesting location," says Kehl, adding that he uses his climbing notoriety to bring his art to wider audiences.
Kehl, who just starred in a climbing video in Japan, has been on the road since 2002. He is constantly seeking out new rocks and cliffs, and he brings his camera everywhere. When he comes across images like the strange evening light and shapes of burnt wood on Mount Evans after one of his climbs, he starts snapping photos.
On "recovery days" after climbs, he snaps hundreds of photos. Then he experiments with Photoshop, pasting cutouts of people who catch his eye into landscapes, such as a curving highway below foamy clouds.
This tendency to experiment led him to a new foray into sculpture using the method for making climbing molds.
Kehl makes molds as a side job for Revolution Inc., a climbing gear company. He starts the process by carving a piece of foam, then pouring silicone over it to create a mold. After the mold hardens and the foam is removed, he pours fiberglass resin into it.
He used this method to create one sculpture he says may be considered dark.
"Imagine a cross-section of meat," he says. "A block of meat, two foot by two foot. Layer of skin on top. It's kind of like a wall hanging." The sculpture has a surreal element to it, and there is coarse black hair on top; one might imagine it being sliced meticulously out of a hairy man on a cartoon.
Though he's drawn to darker images, Kehl does not characterize himself as a dark person. It would be more accurate to say that he is not afraid to confront darkness.
Fearlessness has certainly earned him a reputation in the climbing community, which has mercilessly scrutinized the merits of his no-rope conquering of The Fly.
According to climbing.com, "a fall [from The Fly] might land one on the starting ledge, on the ground five feet below, or on some combination of the two."
When asked what his biggest artistic achievement is, Kehl says, "I don't think I've had it yet."
The Works of Jason Kehl
OpticalReverb Gallery, 218 W. Colorado Ave.
Open Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, noon to 5 p.m.; show runs through Aug. 1.
Visit opticalreverb.com for more.