Time Travel with David King
David King’s new paintings are like fiery dreams. Hot with neon color, memories fade, some crumble into dust, others linger. Looking at this body of work is a bit like time travel, but feels like you’ve accidentally stumbled into someone else’s history, like an uninvited guest at a family reunion.
King won ArtNEO’s “Cleveland Creates” competition, a juried exhibition of original works by Northeast Ohio artists – which in turn awarded him a solo show in the gallery. A master of realist figurative painting, King’s current exhibition, “Time Travel”, at ArtNEO includes about twenty paintings, all created in the year 2019. The sheer number of them is impressive in itself, but the focused nature of his practice is even more so. I have seen his paintings before, many similarly based on old family photographs, but they were dark, monochromatic affairs – faded like black and white prints in an old dusty box. These new works are alive with color – almost shocking in their dynamism, screaming their stories from the walls, demanding attention.
I have to admit, at first, this new neon-tinged palette deterred me, but after immersing myself into the room I found myself relenting. In some, the neon colors dominate, but in most they creep in slowly, hiding in the margins, haunting the periphery with their hot presence. These strangely out of place colors energize King’s compositions, and since the subject matter is drawn from the past, maybe they are a byproduct of King’s eponymous time travel? You know those bright explosions of color you see if you rub your eyes when they’re closed, and for a moment when you open your eyes, you can see them layered on top of reality? But then they quickly fade? Like that.
In the center of the gallery is a flat case displaying some of the intricacies of King’s process – including how he works with family photographs to create his imagery. In some, the technique is straightforward, like Sunshine Corner, where a single photograph is extrapolated upon from memory to complete the composition.
In others, the process is more complex, as King occasionally takes photographs and manipulates them into entirely new compositions. Such as the painting All the Way to China, which the artist created by carefully liberating a figure from a photograph, then splicing it into a completely new narrative – including a fantastical hole that presumably leads to the other side of the Earth. Sometimes memories can work like this – despite the photographic evidence, they can be tricky.
When it comes to telling stories, and recalling one’s past exploits, our memories don’t always cooperate. Things tend to be fluid, and as we get older and more removed from them, they can take on a life of their own. I see King trying (sometimes in vain) to capture this on canvas, so it is refreshing to see that the artist deliberately toys with the concept in his process. Splicing things, layering negatives, changing details – it’s a messy business, the past.
These paintings have a strong emotional resonance to them – it feels like looking through an anonymous photo album in an antique mall. All those faces peering out from the shadows, all the stories, triumphs and tragedies, now lost, forgotten. In some of King’s paintings the image is actually eroding – only fragments of the story make it onto the canvas, other parts have presumably been washed away by the passage of time. Photographs help, but our recall can only go so far. See, that’s the thing about time travel – you can’t really go back, but you certainly can try.