Time Walls: Don Kimes Works From Italy
Heavy Metal: Don Kimes Steel Paintings
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Barbara Rose, 1996
Two years ago Don Kimes, who had been painting high key intensely colored collage works, began using metal rather than canvas as the support for paintings. Gone too were the bright colors and fragile collage surface. Instead of applied color put on by conventional techniques, the dark burnished and rusted color of metal treated with acid washes became his new palette. Kimes’ decision to forsake traditional materials and techniques opened up new possibilities for creating pictorial form and structure. But these new materials and techniques were neither arbitrary nor unrelated to his earlier concerns their use indicates a growing awareness of the problems of painting that pushes at the boundaries of the already known.
An uncommonly intelligent painter, Kimes was determined to bring his own particular vision and content into line with the most progressive developments in painting that acknowledged the literal character of both the surface and support while dispensing with figure ground relationships that are the mainstay of academic composition. A generation younger than Johns, Rauschenberg and Stella, Kimes followed their lead in finding fresh inspiration for painting in printmaking techniques. In Kimes’ case, however, this meant using automatic procedures to “provoke” form as opposed to imposing static compositions related to static imagery. The result is a tension between chance and control, accident and discipline that give his new works, whether large or small, an inherent drama.
Kimes’ determination to remain faithful to the ambitious notions of content to which Abstract Expressionism (which was really never abstract or expressionistic) aspired is both rare and courageous for an artist of his generation. No matter how radical or experimental his materials and techniques, his paintings remain paintings that emphasize the pictorial concerns of painterly surface and coherent structure as much as they demand to be experienced as poetic and emotional statements related to human experience.
Confronting the dilemma of the painting as literal object is among the essential elements of painting as it seeks to redefine itself. Within this framework Kimes struggles to define how a pictorial statement is different from an object in its ability to imply light and space without defining their explicitness so narrowly that what we are left with is furniture rather than a metamorphic transformation of the material into the spiritual realm of the immaterial.
The transformation of the materials into the immaterial has always been the goal of ambitious painting. Perhaps it is even more so today because we live in a purely materialistic and one-dimensional culture that would deny meaning and content to art other than the basest and most obvious forms of propaganda or decoration. In the context of the goal that painting sets for itself today, an artist like Don Kimes exhibits an exemplary tenacity and courage in confronting the limitations as well as the potential of the pictorial.