Friday, April 3, 2009

Review: David Kearns at the Julian Scott Gallery

by Clair Dunn.

Cave paintings. Coming into the Julian Scott Memorial Gallery on the Johnson State College campus from the gloriously sunny day outside the effect was that of entering a cave. And the work on the walls sustained the feeling. But David Kearns had a brush, a palette of strong colors, and a viscous imagination. Kearns’ MFA show officially opened March 30 and runs through April 18th. Opening reception is Saturday, April 4 from 2 to 4 p.m. Two weeks doesn’t seem long enough. Kearns, 33, was one of the Vermont Arts Council’s 20 Art of Action finalists and unfortunately, in the end, one of the nine NCAs (non-commissioned artists).
Realize that Re-runs, the image above, is approximately 20 feet by 8 and you will understand why you need to be in the room.

Kearns, drawing since he was a little kid, and both drawing and painting since he was 12, says that he tries to understand “what it is about the things I see that stick in my head and compel me to draw them.” But if he fails to understand, he doesn’t care. He draws constantly and his sketchbooks become the source of his paintings: “[what I see] is distilled in drawing and comes back into the world in my paintings.” With a nod to his Roman Catholic upbringing and its attendant iconography, and being told for years by teachers that he needed to understand it, he, as he says, “. . . came out at the other end feeling [that] the inexplicability of art is really what makes it.”

Because his first association with visual imagery came from the world of comic books, Kearns says he was, in the beginning, a narrative painter, felt that was what art was about. Then, “. . .at a certain point, I stopped telling a story and came to realize that a story was being told to me.”

And, he goes on to say, “making art is about asking questions about the world.” What we see on these four walls are clearly the answers he got.

When it comes to putting the answers down, he uses almost pure colors, especially adept with Quinacridone Magenta, Hansa Yellow, and Phthalo Blue—“I just find colors and I like them.” For me this particular statement hit home. I certainly would have loved another hour or two on what he might have had to say about his experiences with color.

Paper and Color plus All of Art History

Kearns paints in acrylics on Arches paper that he buys in rolls and paints in sections. And what he paints, I can’t say, because the definition—if there is one—is inside his head. I could name the “objects” in the paintings—crows, cats, little disks with legs and Mickey Mouse shoes, televisions on a rug, an osprey nest atop a slender obelisk encircled by a spoked wheel. (His crows, on the mundane level of realism, tell you that absolutely the man can see; thus you can trust him.)

Dali, Magritte, the later Stella, and a substantial cliff worthy of the Renaissance masters, or the Hudson River painters demonstrates a thorough internalizing of art history, so ingrained that he has made all of it his own—there’s not really a derivative stroke or idea anywhere. Though certainly an occasional brush stroke here and there that Van Gogh might well have owned up to.

Kearns admits to being a news junkie, and says that “historical consciousness [is] really an important part of my art. Out of what he takes in and catalyzes, Kearns creates a world for us, but it is, in a way I can’t explain, accessible. He lays it out for us to use, to see what we see, to think what we think.

And what I think is that, while one cannot say, as one can often say with other artists, “here is a “brooding landscape”, a “dark portrait”, a “violent abstraction”, one can say, “here is a painter who thinks, who creates a world with a bright palette that will make you think, possibly dream, and—if you have artistic tendencies—will viscerally inspire you. And thankfully, though Kearns was willing to talk about his art, he didn't "explain it".

The Rest of the Walls

There are two other pairs of panels (above left: Mesa, right: Shilleleagh and a small, whimsical piece (Apparition) to round out the show. If you want to give your eyes and mind a work out, see this show: ignore the difficult lighting; ask for a chair and suck it in.