Jeremy Kidd is the grandson of Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth, but if his first major show is anything to go by, his aesthetic ancestry descends from Lynda Benglis and her perverse twisting of post-Minimalist means to theatrical ends. Of course, the number of artist of whom this could be said is now legion, the self-conscious profanation of Minimalist purity having become a postmoderrnism and AIDS has given a macabre edge to this aesthetic of contamination, which has also lent itself to rhetorical and sometimes vengeful exploitation by artists seeking to redress the exclusion of their idealogical constituency from the precints of high art. In the process contamination has become a metaphor fro the breakdown of both social and aesthetic heirarchies.
Kidd's use of trope is less elliptical, and oriented toward sci-fi whimsy. He showed two related bodies of work: a series of sculptural, photo-based painting with surfaces disrupted by bacterial blobs of flocked foam; and a number of floor-level sculpture made from poured, Day-Glo-colored polyurethan foam and embellished with erectile excrescences that terminate in acrylic "eyes," or, in one case, are topped by a peice of coral under a clear acrylic dome. The sci-fi theme was rounded out by the inclusion of a figure––with a piece of coral for a head––in a powder-blue biohazmat suit pimple with orange, flocked growths.
Despite the more assertive presence of the foam sculptures, the paintings were more intriguing. There were eleven on display, ranging in size from 48-by-72 inches to a series of 12-by-12's. Calling them paintings is a little misleading since they are nova prints that have been coated with polyester resin and then embellished with acrylic paint and aforementioned blobs. Most of the images are various types of coral and would easily lend themselves to decorative, abstract arrangements were it not for the fuzzy blobs and serpentine, slimy-looking translucent trails of flocked acrylic on the hard, nail-polish-slick surfaces. Spots, loops, and swirls of acrylic paint help intergrate the projecting blobs with the underlying image but this only heightens the illusion that the foam blobs are actually living, parasitic growths.
What Kidd has done in his paintings is to take an element out of the abstract biomorphic vocabulary and make it rel enough to force a consideration of its unpleasant associations.. The blobs in his paintings attack both the formal purity of abstraction and the aesthetics distance upon which the referential quarantine of abstraction depends. Normally, the pullulating forms characteristic of biomorphic abstraction evoke conceptual rather than biological activity, referring to nature for validation but ultimately testifying to the gestural prowess of their human author. From Vasily Kandinsky to Terry Winters, the biomorphic pictorial field serves as both spawining ground for the alien life incubated in gesture and a containment field that prevents thes foreign bodies from entering the real space occupied by the viewer.
Kidd turns this conversation inside out, spoiling the surfaces of his images with tangible mircobial forms. The images themselves have been chromatically keyed up: the corals look poisonous; a succulent look like a crystalline mineral; an oil-soaked stretch of Kuwaiti beach takes on the appearance of a floating oil slick. Everywhere in Kidd's images nature appears compromised by the toxicity of human activities, which in turn are threatened by nature's invasive pathogens. And yet goofy humor previals, thanks to the inherent absurdity of Kidd's manipulation of scale and the low-tech theatricality of his means, which evoke the crude special effects of camp sci-fi movies.
A number of slightly older Photoshop-manipulated images included her revealed Kidd's interest in topiary. One particular, a large, color-enhanced Cibachome of the park at Hampton Court, shows a large, conical yew pierced by a circular aperture framing a view of similarily shapped yews in the distance. The aperture is a digized addition, the artist's own topiary work as it were. It suggests a parallel between the activities proper to gardening and the artist's pruning, cropping, forcing and embellishing of images. It also serves as foil, illustrating the dream of total human control over nature, which the rest of the works in this show subvert with the specter of nature's most lethal riposte: disease.
MAY 23, 1998
BY PATRICIA CORREIA