Studio Visit: Kim Dingle; Innocence and Pathos – the Chiaroscuro of the Soul
By Gary Brewer
“How thin and insecure is that little beach of white sand we call consciousness. I’ve always known that in my writing it is the dark troubled sea of which I know nothing, save its presence that carried me. I’ve always felt that creating was a fearless and a timid, a despairing and hopeful, launching out into that unknown.” -Athol Fugard
“…songs of an unheard-of purity flow through you, addressed to no one, they well up, surge forth, from the throats of your unknown inhabitants, these are the cries that death and life hurl in their combat.” -Héléne Cixous
Darkness and light, the human urge to challenge one’s self, to climb into the abyss and return to the light. Artists use the tools of creation as a golden thread; like Theseus entering the labyrinth to battle the Minotaur, the thread allowing them to find their way back, to return to the world a temporary victor in the battle against the ever-encroaching tide of darkness.
Kim Dingle creates works that exist in a complex vector of innocence and pathos. Her fighting girls battle in a world of semi-darkness, shades of Goya linger in the shadows of the ashen colors of her grisaille palette. She creates sculptures and installations that anthropomorphize our world. In the piece 4DFB 507 – 63mg4me, Kim has taken two Midget MG cars and painted and augmented them to represent both male and female genders. Her Crush paintings are abstractions of dots on glassine paper that are noisily crumpled and piled on the floor. There is another series titled, the maps of the U.S. drawn from memory by Las Vegas teenagers. She works in a wide range of media and metaphor but is best know for her doppelganger Priss, whose antics range from busting through walls or climbing from a crib and mark making on the walls of her bedroom, creating an intimate Twombly-like exhibition in a child’s room.
When asked what it is she is doing, she looked off into the distance and said, “I don’t know”. Then she paused for a moment and followed with this, “Challenge. I want to challenge myself to solve visual problems.”
What is the existential itch that compels one to try something new, to see if they can reach further in the pursuit of the unknown? It is the unanswerable question that looms in the distance, like the byzantine labyrinth to the Castle that Kafka’s anti-hero, K, will never reach.
We spent the morning in her vast studio looking at different bodies of work, many which have never been shown. There were many works that Kim did not want photographed, some because they were too personal – painful memories of a traumatic loss; others because they were new and yet to be exhibited.
We spoke about her career and the various bodies of work that she has created, “As a young artist Gerhard Richter was a powerful presence, his insistence that his non-objectives be displayed in the same room as photo-realist works and the freedom he gave himself to explore different approaches to making art affected me deeply. I have always created a varied approach to my painting, sculptures and installations. When I first ‘hit’ with my fighting girls, it affected the way that my art was perceived.”
She currently has a series of ‘abstract’ paintings that are made from the different palettes that were used while painting her Crush series. She has framed each of them in a white frame of differing depths, so the paintings oscillate an inch or two closer or further out from the wall. They are hung as a group in a grid. “I started out as a non-objective painter before I started painting the figure. These are complete works. I look at the remains of each palette and add marks and colors to fully resolve them. I have a pseudonym that I will exhibit these works under, the paintings are meant in part to be a critique of the Zombie Formalism.”
One room in her studio had a series of dark paintings leaning against the walls. There was one that she would not let me photograph – it was too much for Kim. The violence of the image was more than she could bear. She said of the piece, “I will probably destroy this work or maybe I will keep it as a reminder of how I can take it too far.”
The paintings in this room have a somber tone. They are paintings of young girls and boys, one with a gun, another digging with a shovel, maybe digging a grave. There was a monster or a dragon in the middle of the grouping, the dark flame-like brush strokes radiating outward from the eyes, a dark passage into another realm; maybe it is the monster Grendle, or another dark entity from a nightmare.
There is a quality to many of Kim’s drawings and paintings that have the pathos, the somber tones and the expressive brushwork that brought Goya to my mind. The figures expressing a powerful emotive quality fused with humor and innocence. It is a sublimated struggle that represents a diaristic impulse to record her personal experiences, blended with the larger palette of the world at large.
As we looked at the work I asked Kim if she felt a connection to Goya. “Goya was one of my first inspirations, I love his paintings. I first saw his work in a book, The Indignant Eye, that dealt with artists who had a critical political stance in their art: Goya, Hogarth, Kollwitz and others. When I was very young I made political cartoons. Goya’s work had a powerful influence on me, and it deeply affected me.”
Kim took a break from painting after leaving her gallery Blum and Poe in 2001. “When I stopped painting, my studio turned into a vegetarian restaurant. My partner, Aude Charles and I became restaurant owners and that became the challenge for me; to run this restaurant and wine bar. After seven years we were burned out on restaurant work, I started to wonder if I could still paint, so I started working on small panels to get my hand back. Once I could feel the muscle memory returning and my ability to move paint, I set myself the challenge to paint 100 small panels that I would put together into larger pieces. At that time we were wishing to get out of the restaurant but it took another seven years before we closed; this series of paintings was titled, Studies for the Last Supper at Fatty’s, they were fantasies! Using this technique of multiple panels I was able to create huge paintings of this theme.”
Recently Kim complained that she had painted Priss and the images of fighting girls so many times that she could paint them blind-folded. At first it was a joke that she said to emphasize her frustration, but as she thought about it and reflected on her experience with muscle memory when she returned to painting, it became a challenge; to create a series of paintings that she would execute blind folded.
One of the paintings, Beat the Crap Out of You is done in bold fluid strokes that communicate the action. The black and white gestural energy of the painting contains both a sense of violence but through a lens of comedy. It describes the action; a punch in the stomach here, some hair pulling there and it also functions fully as a purely abstract painting. The powerful energy of the gestures holds space in tension; the emotional expression of the marks is genuine. It is like an action study with a cartoonish quality; the humor gives the work a playful layer on top of a cathartic expression of genuine anger. The ability to load the work with multiple tiers of meaning through blind touch alone is impressive. It is the id shadow boxing in a dark alley, the broken glass of beer bottles metaphorically crunching under Kim’s feet to help her know where she is in this drunken brawl with the vicissitudes of fate and fame.
Art can be a record of the machinations of the world, or the inner journey of the artist. We search in the dark for the deep currents that illuminate our primal needs. Maybe challenging oneself is a form of discovering the contour of our feelings. A way to cast a shadow to see the shape of ones self, the flickering flame that is the only thing we truly know, but that which is most foreign and hidden from our own comprehension.
Kim Dingle works in the dark; she is shadowboxing with the world. It is a fight and a dance done in slapstick to recover that which has been lost; to find new ways to challenge herself and to discover novel modes of expression. To communicate with humor and pathos the cadences and currents of her thoughts and feelings delivered in the visual energy of a Chaplinesque brawl.