Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Dual Show @ Salt Creek Artworks

Salt Creek Artworks is one of the pillars of the St. Petersburg Art community. It is a beautiful exhibition space in a prime location, easily accessible from the downtown area, housing the studios of a wide variety and number of artists. Headed by Pat Burgess for about seven years, and her parents before that, the space has been a haven for art and artists for nineteen years. Only a handful of arts venues in the city have been open that long or longer. Lance Rodgers is the resident curator.

This "Dual Show" is two distinct shows, one in each room. In front, is Steven Kenny's "Layers of Intention" and in the back room is Kirk Ke Wang's "Last Meal" show.

 Steven Kenny, "The Bonnet"
Steven Kenny's work has that secret strength that many surrealists (including Salvador Dali) have had: The technical ability to render subjects in a very realistic fashion using oils on canvas, linen or panels. This amps up the tension of the surreal elements and facilitates the suspension of disbelief, simultaneously greasing the turnstyle to Wonder and Mystery.

 The style is similar to Victorian society portraits.   In most of the paintings, there are figures and landscapes, birds and.or plants. The visually logical realism coupled with the juxtaposition of many bizarre, dream-like elements creates a mental parallax that breeds new associations and ways of seeing not just what's inside the frame, but things in our world. Our expectations are not met or exceeded. They are  challenged. The normal and the fantastic harmonize and reinforce each other.

In "The Bonnet", seen on the left, Kenny painted a youthful figure who wears a bird-cape tied to its head with a blue-ribbon knotted under the chin. When the artist was a youth, he spent time in the woods around his home. He obviously observed his surroundings closely and passionately. Here, the bird cape is worn in a similar way to that which native peoples might wear an animal's skull, horns, or pelt as a kind of totem or nagual [Link].

Steven Kenny, "The Imposter"
These painting go well beyond the basic, literal figure/nature relationship. They do not delineate clear borderlines between the Nature outside our skin and that within, instead raising questions all along that continuum. Some blend in the conceptual with the surreal, bringing up self-referential questions.
  In "The Imposter", pictured at left, there's a bit of Magritte's "This is not a pipe" [Link]. A beautiful nude leans against a tree. Three squirrels play about her person, one on the tree, one on her shoulder, the third on her chest. A hand enters the frame from the lower left holding a fourth squirrel, but this one is a cut-out. Who's the imposter? It might be you.

Steven Kenny, "The Wishbone"

Look carefully at the picture of "The Wishbone". A female nude holds a wishbone behind her back. Note the separation of her legs. The angle is close to...the wishbone. So are her arms, and even her hair. Is the entire body a wishbone?

Steven Kenny, "Sunrise"

In "Sunrise", a female nude floats in the sky above a forest. Sunrise, the hour between the wolf and the dog, the time most dreams end and we awaken.  Her hair is blown back as if she is falling out of dreamland and back into her physical body, much like most viewers will when they walk away from the painting.

Kirk Ke Wang, "Last Meal"
I have driven past Kirk Ke Wang's Seminole Heights studio many times on my way to Tempus Projects. It's on the same block. He is an international artist, with studios in Shanghai and NYC. Wang is a visual arts professor at Eckerd College who works in several media, including sculpture, photography, paint, and mixed media. On top of all that, he is also involved with educational software. Like Steven Kenny, he also worked as a commercial designer.

Kirk Ke Wang's installation at Salt Creek Artworks is a complex and conceptual one. It has a backstory, basically that the animals of the world decide to suicide via hanging in order to provide us with a "Last Meal".  Note that the animals have letters on them. The installation is divided into two halves. Each is encoded to a crossword puzzle, one about good words "Of Eating Meat", the other for the bad words about the same topic.

Kirk Ke Wang, "Last Meal"

There's a strange combination of the cuteness of the fuzzy animals and the eeriness of their sacrifice/suicide for our carnivorous tendencies. All those hanging figures form a forest or landscape of their own as one wanders about. Just after the show, yet another researcher came up with results showing that eating red meat is worse for our health than previously thought. I asked the artist if he was a vegetarian. He is not, adding that the work is about prompting people to think about the issue.

Kirk Ke Wang, LastMeal"

In between the good and bad word sides of the installation there was a large circle of ceramic won-tons. On a screen behind them, videos of animals posed on the edge of the Grand Canyon, which brought up the significance of the layering of time (and its end), along with other imagery, including the one pictured here, of real won-tons frying with a blood-colored dye amongst them.

Congratulations to artists Steven Kenny and Kirk Ke Wang, curator Lance Rodgers and Salt Creek Artworks for two fascinating shows.

 --- Luis

PS. I noticed the irony that all of the hors d'oeuvres at the opening were (you guessed) meat. My friend Michael Conway, photographer with a studio at Salt Creek and sometime performance artist decided to riff off Kirk Ke Wang's installation by devouring a pork sandwich brimming with meat. He chose to do this with the "bad words" side behind him.

Michael Conway performance.

The Dual Show @ Salt Creek Artworks - The works of Steven Kenny, "Layers of Intention",  and Kirk Ke Wang's "Last Meal". Opens Thursday, Mar 8th, Opening reception, Friday, March 9th, 6-9 PM. At Salt Creek Artworks, 1600 4th st S. St Pertersburg. Free.


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