Avatars and Secret Doors: David King at HEDGE
In his solo exhibit “Transience and the Gift of Curiosity” at HEDGE Gallery, David King’s small painting “Lava Field” shows two girls, running hand-in-hand toward the viewer. They emerge from a gray- brown wall of mist or smoke, across the glowing cracks of a lava flow. Members of the artist’s family, these girls are literally figures from the past, their images lifted to a new and hazardous context from scenes of happy afternoons long ago. The girls (though not the lava) were part of a recently discovered trove of family movie film and still photo negatives shot in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Transferred to digital format, this resource inspired King in dozens of paintings completed over the past year. Mixed and matched, and often transferred to an imaginative or even abstract context, the images meditate on and juggle their elements as if in an inter-dimensional state where memory and photography coexist, sometimes uneasily. Many of King’s compositions are both profound and complex, but Lava Field’s message is quite straightforward, in its way. The children move through a shroud of chthonic vapors –the ultimate truth of our universe, veils of eternity’s fire. The image is a concise realization of the overarching motives of King’s exhibit – an exploration of memory’s wraith-like impermanence, and an evocation of the illusionistic nature of our brief lives.
Perhaps these visionary mash-ups are also are a reminder that travelling from the past to the present is a dangerous journey, that the path of time is one of elemental harshness, and a warning: the present moment is where the pain is felt.
Still, in a statement that accompanies the show King describes finding the materials he uses, and he emphasizes that his struggle as a painter with memory and time has been a process that brings much consolation with it, as he recovers moments that now take on a new life. In the course of a larger struggle with coherence and awareness that we all take part in, these works can function as both a reminder of lost times, and as a balm. He says, “This series does not fix or memorialize the past. The images excavate the time, perpetuate the movement, and invite participation”.
The sources of King’s images are scenes of an American life, familiar to almost any contemporary viewer. Old cars, one-piece bathing suits, yellow slickers, trailer parks. Works in the exhibit are a little like chapters from an unwritten novel. The plot involves travelling, sunshine, deserts and inner-ring suburban streets, threats, fears, dreams. “Get In” is a two foot square painting, rendered in oil on aluminum panel. It shows a middle-aged woman in a pink bathing suit, standing on a level area of yellow sand, staring at a rusty car’s open door. It looks as if the car has pulled up next to her, and someone (probably the unseen driver) has shouted to her and pushed the passenger side door open. Her face is in shadow, and a patch of shadow surrounds her feet – maybe it’s early afternoon at the beach. But the plot is thicker than that. In the backseat we can see the head of a young man or boy holding what looks like a large pistol. And then, if you approach the painting from the left and walk up to it, you see that the door is actually a 3D cut-out, opened from the edge of the painting’s metal sheet and standing ajar. It’s as if the image is part of the car, or the gallery itself has broached a gateway to another world, just behind the paint and the light, beyond the wall and the artistic intention. King has kicked opened a trapdoor into the shadowy subconscious of a sunny day.
If mid-century America had a skin, that skin would be some kind of metal – most likely aluminum, smooth and handy. No substance could speak of those decades with more conviction, just as various hydrocarbon materials speak for our lifestyle now. Thus King’s works here are all executed on aluminum panel, prepped for oil paint and, in some cases, expertly sawed to provide access to other layers of meaning. It’s a highly successful combination.
“Who’s Making Dirty Dirty Dishes with You” makes another vertiginous leap, revealing upheavals and betrayals lurking just behind the surface of daily life. The title itself is a line from a blues song by the late Albert Collins , a funny/angry ballad about infidelity, and the image shows a man standing near the sink in a mid-century modern kitchen, near the sink, in the grip of a moment of nasty clarity. He looks sad as he gazes out toward the viewer, and given the title we get the reason. Somebody has been leaving a T-bone there in the basin, while he’s been eating cornflakes (to paraphrase lines from the song). It figures that in this painting the man himself is the door to the darkness of a private underworld, cut out from the bright, light kitchen, from his world.
“Party Dress” uses a more conventional approach to show multiple viewpoints and timeframes, bound within the simultaneity of a painted surface. An elderly woman sporting a white cloche and an amused, smile, leans lightly against the white corner of a clapboard house or garage; behind her we see the windows of a two-storey cement or stucco building, possibly a hospital or nursing home. She’s wearing what looks like a flowered robe or housecoat, with a long wide collar and full-length sleeves. Here the title is important. I imagine her saying, “This is my party dress, buster”.And maybe it is; certainly she’s also wearing (at least in her mind? ) what appear to be silk stockings, and shiny black patent leather pumps. There are also literal shadows here, under blue sky and lozenges of cloud. A deep lavender shape at the bottom margin is the head of the observer, the person doing the photographing. But on the left there is another tall shadow cast on the clapboard wall, like the edge of another building or tree, near the top of which we notice the further shadow of a human profile, as if lurking. It could be a man’s, it could be a sort of ghost. “Party Dress” is as much a picture of a mind as of a person, now long since gone.
King’s ambitious works at “Transience” go on to evoke storm, ice and flood, re-contextualizing moments and persons stranded, each on their island of time- past. He takes them whole as he finds them, not only down the rabbit holes of identity, fraught with fear and doubt, but also into the swirling chromatic, abstract realm of paint and raw imagination. Because they are all, in one way or another, part of his own past, they must also be avatars for the artist himself, a painter’s emissaries to a world of infinite color and formal variety, where the borders and boundaries of the self slip into the tides of being.