Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Wayne Kimball’s Surrealist Dream

by Hillary Carmen

Wayne Kimball’s current exhibit at the Covey Center for the Arts, Things Put Together By Hand Without Instructions In A Basement, is a realm of broken and ruined antiquity, birds, timepieces, and fragmented body parts. The viewer, left equally without instruction, is invited to piece it altogether, a task that may require some work, but given the rich nature of these finely executed lithographs and collages, it is work well rewarded.

Kimball, who began his art education in the 1960s, and received his Master of Fine Arts degree and certification as a Tamarind Master Printer in the 1970s, recently retired from Brigham Young University, bringing to conclusion an influential teaching career that took him to the University of Texas, California State University, San Diego State University, University of New Mexico, Arizona State University, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has taught multiple courses over the years, but the process which seems to be close to his heart and his art is lithography.

Lithography is a unique printing and art-making form that allows for detailed drawing, like an etching, but is also able to include washes, textures, and smooth transitions of color and gradation. A large plaque on one of the gallery’s wall describes and explains this printmaking process, reinforcing in our minds, as soon as we enter the room, the fact that we are viewing art work –- two-dimensional, flat, rolled and pressed images –- and not anything else. The viewer is given a crash course in technique. Meaning is another matter.

A Shrine to a Very Fast Horse

When he creates his compositions, Kimball says, he wants to leave the content open enough for the viewer to bring his or her own life experience to the artworks and imbue them with meaning – an interpretation all their own. After Roland Barthes’s 1967 essay Death of the Author, we assume that, no matter how open or closed an artist intends their work to be, the viewer will always bring their very own interpretation to it and make new meaning. Whether we realize it or not, everyone looks at art in their own way and gives art personal significance. Some art, however, is richer in possible meaning and so more rewarding to the authorial viewer. While Kimball is unable to control how the diverse viewers will read his work, he seems, in this exhibit, to require an audience that has some background in art and art history to enable more participation in the creation of meaning. Some of his collages use images from Renaissance painting, while more than a few of his lithographs include Hellenistic, Greek and Imperial Roman sculpture. One of his collages also pays homage to a collage of Picasso. The entire suite of work, both collages and lithographs, coheres through the repetition of the same figures, images and themes across pieces.

Like a Surrealist, Kimball takes certain objects out of their original context to create surprising new meaning, juxtaposing, in his words “presumably unrelated entities and/or introduced into an unexpected visual environment.” Objects in their new context bring about new meanings as the viewer sorts out the visual puzzle in front of him. These compositions elicit a dream atmosphere for the viewer. The works in Things Put Together By Hand . . . portray a slight uneasiness and some are obviously far removed from a sense of reality. As the viewer must tap into a subconscious state, the exhibit becomes a surrealist dream of Kimball’s creation.

“Two Men Behind a Scene” is a collage set up within a very cramped interior space. An artificial, decorative column on the right has been torn at the top, transforming this column into an ancient ruin of a would-be temple. Three lit candles — perhaps developing the idea of temple worship — sit, it seems, on the floor. But we are unable to see exactly where, and this, along with the linens and drapery placed precariously nearby, creates anxiety in the viewer. A single candle, unlit, sits on the ceiling, mirroring the candles on the floor but representing their complete opposite: where there are several lit and right-side-up candles, there stands a single, unlit, upside-down candle on the opposite side of the room. A wood and wicker chair rests on the floor as well, which, though perhaps seemingly normal at first glance, cannot be sat upon because the back of it has been separated and turned upside down, creating a disconnect. One of the two “men” in this collage sits above the fragmented and twisted chair. It is not really a man, but a frame within a frame, which is held up by eight, presumably male, fingers. Inside this gilded and carved frame is a man’s buttoned-up sport jacket. The second “man” consists of a scientific drawing of a male head, neck, and part of the spine, surrounded by a sort of metal ring. He looks up toward the first man in the frame with his disjointed neck and head while his body is represented by pinkish curtains. This man’s head has been stripped to an anatomical design while his body looks like flayed flesh openly exposing his muscles. Like the candles, these two men are opposite from one another. One man is a framed piece of clothing with severed fingers while the other is an assembled figure of bones and muscle. This image creates a world of unexpectedness and opposites that surprise and jar the viewer, perhaps a metaphor for the disjointed duality in man.

Kimball’s lithograph “Parts to a Troublesome Dream” is another image in the surrealist vein. In the early twentieth century, surrealists were looking to Freud’s psychoanalysis to try to understand humankind and uncover man’s subconscious. In searching for inspiration for their artwork through psychoanalysis, they found in dreams a major source. Kimball’s print contains two disembodied sculpture heads hovering above the scene, both of which have wings attached to their temples. These heads would look serene or angelic, but instead, with their deep, vacant holes where their eyes should be, they are alarming. An x-ray-like wing floats just under the severed heads and just above a wooden chair. This chair is rendered so that it has the illusion of three-dimensions, though the color of the background seems to flatten the image. A human brain perches in the chair’s back rest, which refers again to psychology, psychoanalysis, and dreams. As in the dream state, unrelated objects and ideas come together to create some semblance of meaning, but whatever significance we give it dissolves with more concentrated thought, like waking up from the dream. The subconscious domain is dominated not by concrete, decipherable metaphor or reason, but rather by the uncanny.

The artist himself might not claim the title of Surrealist, but Wayne Kimball’s dream-like reworking of objects into a new context cannot help but create that atmosphere. Kimball has created a beautiful, though unsettling, world full of images that give their viewers stunning puzzles from which to create their own meaning.


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