EXPLORATORIUM 2 (2005)
THAMES 1 (2005)
CRYSTAL CITY 2 (2004)
The edgy L.A.-based British transplant merges evocations of architecture and nature, painting in pixels to make time stand still.
Los Angeles photographer and installation artist Jeremy Kidd has a funny way of looking at things. Born as he was into one of England’s most famous families of artists (his grandparents were painter Ben Nicholson and modernist sculptor Barbara Hepworth, whose work is installed locally at the Norton Simon Museum) he naturally studied art himself. His fierce streak of independence and individualism spurred his migration to sunny California some decades ago and inspired a spirit of investigation and experimentation in forms and materials that yet held one consistent idea in mind: to use the tools of art, and artifice, to arrive at deeper truths about the nature of reality and perception. He has always been drawn to wonders of both the natural and architectural worlds, finding ways to combine the spirit and forms of iconic vistas into an absolutely unique vision of our environments, saying of the buildings and cityscapes in his compositions: “These structures rival elements of the vast, majestic Western American landscape, where monolithic rock formations and sweeping canyons create such a sense of awe…” The poetic irony of this conceptual foundation is that it echoes in sensibility and language the sentiments of the great artists whose legacy he had been attempting to outgrow.
On the eve of an exhibition of his recent large-scale photographic works at the Laguna Art Museum, Kidd cannot help but take stock of how his family legacy has interacted with his personal experiences in forging his evolving vision. The Laguna show is called “Fictional Realities” and consists of a series of images made with a drastically labor-intensive process, depicting manipulated urban streetscapes and architectures whose forms have been distorted into final compositions presenting complete 360-degree views. This is accomplished through a combination of digital photography and months of painstaking computer work, stitching and blending literally hundreds of individual frames into impossibly coherent wholes by doing what Kidd calls “painting with pixels,” a note by note re-rendering akin to painting with a single-hair brush. The results depict experiences of urban environments interacting with both nature and passing time that remain legible but are in a sense more faithful to the experience than the reality. Ben Nicholson, who was a pioneer at combining genres of still life, landscape, and abstraction into fractured wholes, also talked quite a lot about “busting up” the tame aesthetics of his age’s fashions in art. Along the same lines Jeremy has said he finds himself “frequently contending with an innate ability to compose well-balanced arrangements of forms and shapes, no matter what I do.”
Though Kidd began his career as a painter, he soon started incorporating photography and experimenting with alternative materials like poured resins and flock-coating, quickly expanding his affection for texture into the more dimensional realm of sculptural and installation. Early mixed media works introduced intrusions of unfamiliar forms onto familiar architectural structures and landscapes, like placing glowing foam balls in the flowing waters of a canyon river, or bulbous growths on the hedges at the foot of the Getty Center’s hillside, or filling a deep sea diving suit with expanding super foam.
Kidd’s intent was to explore the clash between nature and civilization, the unintended consequences of this clash such as pollution and paranoia, and ways of redeeming the damage through technology and imagination. Thames 1 from the Fictional Realities series resembles a famous J.M.W. Turner painting from the 1840s, depicting a ship setting out from harbor amidst a swirl of glowing mists, the city inscrutable behind. In Kidd’s harbor, streaks of projected light enter into dialogue with architectural lines that reiterate their patterns; their reflections in the water achieve a perfect balance of rays and colorful instances. What’s more, his illusion looks plausible, its unreality is subtle and reveals itself only gradually. In Crystal City 3, the same dynamic appears, using subtler images wherein the artist’s manipulative mediation of the image takes time making itself felt. These images register as real for a crucial extra moment, whereas several others in this series are stridently interpretive. Perhaps the fact that he’s been literally living in a construction site for the past year or more while his home and studio undergo drastic renovations has inured him to the tribulations of impossible buildings. He has given into the demands of architecture in both areas, observing somewhat wistfully that “these pictures are not on human time, they’re on building time.”
By using multiple images at times numbering in the thousands, Kidd is able to magically incorporate a time-lapse effect into single static images, thereby reiterating his personal “experience of being in them over time.” These works often require as much as three days and nights of taking endless single frames, and months of post-production. All archival prints are mounted on aluminum and the edges are cut into the shapes dictated by the edges of the images: the only lingering proof of the part of the process involving physical collage.
Of course, this is not entirely unlike what a landscape painter might do: go out and reconnoiter a vista, bring back multiple views of it, and work it out in the studio. Kidd is very much aware of this, saying: “I consider myself a painter, painting in pixels. Many of the techniques I use require the same skills of perspective as conventional painting.” The pair Chrysler 1 and Chrysler 2 necessitated the artist, who suffers from acrophobia and vertigo, to hang over the side of the rooftop parking lot for three days. In these pictures one building grows out and up in an organic curve like a weed on the side of a cliff, although the cliff is in fact the vertical line of a receding boulevard. A bulbous black building featured in both bulges out toward the viewer like a human torso filling its lungs with air. The shape recalls a previous series of mixed media, 3-D works Kidd created, in which he animated rigid structures into organic contours and contortions.
Other pieces in the series conflate engineered and natural forms in more apparent mergers. Exploratorium 3 makes a stone rotunda repeat itself like a stand of trees, like the farms where they plant a straight row of elms as a windbreak in a wide flat field. Like a crop of sunflowers in fairy tale scale, the rotunda roof splays flat, while a chain made of its repeated structure skips across the image.
Exploratorium 2 poses clusters of bent columns like dense stands of limbless trees or desert cacti, or a petrified forest on a planet with multiple moons. Still other pieces deal more directly with atmospheric motion. Thames 2 returns to the London harbor, but here the dramatic action lies in how full day at the left becomes deep night as the eye travels to the right. Densely detailed and expressive cloud cover reflects the colored city lights on one side and the artificial city lights on the other. One actually sees time unfold, mirroring the dynamism of the eye’s movement. This emphasis on time’s passage made visible in the composition traces back to the very first one of these Kidd ever tried. Desert to Palm from 2005 is mainly a natural desert landscape, with a small valley town’s lights visible very faraway in a low-lying canyon off to the left. The real subject here has little to do with architecture other than to articulate the existence of man-made structures and light sources within an otherwise barren desert landscape. The meaning of the image is tied closely to Kidd’s experience of making it, in the passage from dark night at the left to bright sun rising on the right is also an embedded story about the night the artist passed alone on a remote hilltop. In the single moon and sun confronting each other at eye level across the expanse of sandy, rocky terrain, the audience is exposed to a holistic photographic vision that takes the third and fourth dimensions into account in what Kidd calls “an idealization of the viewing process.”
Kidd describes his approach to representing the urban structures he portrays as “deliberately removing all references to advertising and text from the buildings. I have made the scene more generic, starting to allow the buildings to relate to one another in an anthropomorphic manner, growing and replicating, deconstructing and reorganizing themselves.”
Interestingly, Kidd’s grandfather Ben expressed something similar in 1941, when he wrote: “One of the main differences between a representational and an abstract painting is that the former can transport you by a representation…but in order that you may take part in this you will have to concentrate on the painting, whereas the abstract version by its free use of form and color will be able to give you actual quality itself.” Echoing through generations to bounce off the walls of his grandson’s studio are Ben’s further words from 65 years ago, “Inevitably, you eventually at some point discard altogether the forms of even the simplest objects as a basis and just work out your idea.”
CHRYSLER 1 (2006)
MARCH 1, 2007
BY SHANA NYS DAMBROT