Feral Flora by Kate Barbee
Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles
through March 25
Written by Sydney Walters
LA-based artist Kate Barbee rolls out a solo show at Kohn Gallery that uses blazing colors to synthesize body and object.
Her paintings are portals of fire on the white gallery walls. Jaring oranges and pinks mimic the style of analytical cubism, an early stage of cubism preoccupied with rendering multiple viewpoints via overlapping shapes and planes. Yet she also paints in the spirit of a Baroque enterprise. Barbee leans heavily on stylization to evoke a sense of sensuousness, movement, and vitality.
In “Gamay”, Barbee uses the repeating colors of purple, orange, and yellow to flesh out three figures contorting and bending into one another. It is a scene poised to pay tribute to the sexual tension in Otto Dix’s Leda and the Swan yet Barbee steers clear of the agony of Dix’s scene and chooses to render the faces of the figures in determinately aloof expressions.
This is a curiosity of all of Barbee’s pieces. The bodies of the figures are animated and evolving on a topography ripe with tooth, yet the figures appear impassive and dispassionate. Besides varying hair colors and styles, there is not enough information to connote a different woman in each painting. Rather, this series seems to refer to the same person experiencing the world with inexplicable detachment.
The way Barbee paints hands tells a much different, more engaging story, than the figure’s expressions. In “Brett”, a hand with pink fingernails bends dramatically down as it hugs a spoon between thumb and pointer finger. White fingers surrender to a warm yellow highlighting the top of the hand. The underside of the forearm is a cozy blue and a maturing green blossoms at the crossroad of the yellow hand and blue arm.
To appreciate these extraordinary moments, one must engage with the piece up close. Her paintings are an amalgamation of cut and sewn parts to compose a complete image. The strength of her work and proof of technical mastery lies in the examination of these parts. Like a sewn quilt, Barbee ecnomizes her technique and clumps, scrapes, carves, and sews portions of her work to create sculptural paintings.
Feral Flora, made almost entirely during the 2020 pandemic, peels back the vulnerability and privacy of domesticity. The woven images of flowers, leaves, and interior scenes such as a living room, convey the fusion of nature with artifice. This sense of artifice is progressed by her use of intense colors suggesting a manufactured world. It is the manufactured world of Barbee’s experience of young adulthood. In this dreamscape, the body is pliable and as functional as a coffee table or chair. Body is object and the object-ness of the painting is realized in the meticulous sewn structures. She is exceptional at crafting bodies as structures. Her work contains pockets of inspiration yet lands off balance with capturing the spirit of the figure.
1227 N Highland Ave, Los Angeles, 90038