On July 31st, two amazing artists will be sharing the walls of Subtext in San Diego for a exhibition entitled "Under the Cover of Darkness." In anticipation of the show, I've asked them to share some insight into their work.
The wildly talented Kelly Vivanco, who will be no stranger to Erratic Phenomena's regular visitors, has been painting like a whirling dervish lately, having just completed an extremely successful solo show at Thinkspace, as well as participating in the "Crazy 4 Cult: 3-D" and "Meanwhile... at the Hall of Justice" group exhibitions this month. Her work for Subtext will describe a nightscape inhabited by young ladies who explore a strange twilit land in their nightgowns.
Kelly will be paired with the ingenious Jason Limón, who has made a impression on the pop surrealism scene in the past couple of years with his meticulous paintings inspired by vintage electrical devices and retro toys. His realistic three-dimensional painting effects are often enhanced by the jigsaw-tiled custom canvas panels he creates. Recently, he has begun to explore a more overtly emotional landscape, and this show will be his first full exposition of this new direction in a gallery setting.
Erratic Phenomena: So the theme for your joint show at Subtext is "Under the Cover of Darkness." Who or what can we expect to see lurking in the night... or will this darkness be more of the metaphorical variety?
Jason Limón: Yes, that is actually the title of a small piece I did recently. It's a single owl-shaped figure that to me felt very lonely and downhearted. It was a reflection of how I've felt for a good part of my life. So the title is used in a metaphorical way to help release a great portion of these trapped emotions – though to an outsider looking at the images, it can be viewed as the darkness of night, when mysterious and unknown beings are unveiled as they come out into the open. I'd rather the viewer see things that way, so as not to leave with sad or depressing thoughts.
Kelly: Quite literally, the characters in my paintings for this show are doing things 'under the cover of darkness' – witnessing strange lights and phenomena, exploring dark forests and magical places. Most of the girls are even in their pajamas. Everyone is enveloped in darkness, but there are saturated fields of color behind the wash of darkness, giving unique hues to many of the scenes as well. The environments are quite dreamlike, but none are taking place in dreamland – it’s more like the odd logic and imagery of dreams has crept over into 'reality,’ making odd things and happenings for the characters to discover.
"Tethered at a Fixed Distance"
EP: Jason, lately you've been concentrating on exploring more personal work with an organic, almost medieval sensibility somewhat reminiscent of the ancient manuscripts illuminated by Celtic monks – as opposed to your earlier work, which focused on vintage electrical doodads, anthropomorphic batteries and retro toys. How would you describe the aesthetic behind these new directions you're beginning to explore?
Jason: Well, I recently sat alone and started to think about where I wanted to go with my art before "life" got in the way and influenced my direction. I thought about the ideas I had fresh out of high school, when all I really cared to do is paint and work with galleries. Back then – around 1992 – I looked at art differently and a lot more simply. The images I had in my mind were complex, yet they flowed out with ease. It was about nature and all that is in the world, and twisting it, shaping it into new things that we have never seen.
But then life interrupted, though not in a bad way. I got married, had children and worked day in and day out as a graphic designer. It didn't seem so bad. At least I was still being creative. In time, my new world was more commercial, and I started to lose that sense of exploration.
After a good long while of working this way I felt it was time to get back to where I was trying to go. The thing is that a lot of this world was still attached to me. I wanted my work to have that commercial feel in an interesting way. I had also grown very fond of typography during that period, so I tried using it as often as possible. I did enjoy that stage of my art, but every day that passes, I get closer to that initial goal, from when I saw art with fresh eyes.
"A Little Night Music"
EP: Kelly, we've spoken in the past about the sense of wonder that permeates your work. As a child, you were fascinated by the work of Beatrix Potter and Richard Scarry, whose timeless children's books continue to enchant children many decades after they were published, and even now you seek out the oddments of vintage children's literature in secondhand shops. You also have a son, Sebastian, whose refreshingly unique perspective and ideas seem like they could be a source of inspiration or intellectual rejuvenation. How does one keep a childlike heart and eye in this jaded, materialistic, media-cluttered world?
Kelly: I think it helps that we don't watch TV. If we choose to watch a film or something, we do it on our own time and watch things that are inspiring or entertaining. We always try to be playful and push imagination and creativity on a daily basis. It is good to make up games and stories about things around you, to help enmesh playfulness into everyday interactions, so we do that as much as we can. When I paint, I try to keep an open mind – trying not to create something over-thought, not to get mired in being rigid. Instead I keep an open feeling of wonder or mystery, like I am exploring as I am painting, so I can be just as surprised by where it takes me as the viewer is. It’s like when an author is creating a character and the character takes on its own life, often to the surprise of the author.
EP: Jason, in past interviews, you've revealed that painting and drawing are the only way you can express how you truly feel about the trauma in your childhood. Your more recent work involves an element of sheltering oneself behind various types of armor. The small, bright-eyed creatures hidden inside those protective layers seem to have been weeping blood from their eyes and ears, as if they have seen or heard something that hurts terribly. Would you say that you're searching for new ways to be more emotionally honest – new avenues to explore the more intense areas of your history? How have people responded to the juxtaposition of pain and cuteness in your work?
Jason: You hit the nail on the head there in reading into the elements. It is all about those emotions from my childhood and how they still cling to me today. A lot of times when I meet someone new, they get the feeling that I don't care to interact with them. The truth is that I am just a very reserved person. I tend to shy away from people in general. I've also had serious issues with social anxiety in the past and sometimes it's still a problem.
It all spawns from my past, which I now try to use to my advantage in my art. I create shields, armor and masks to portray that sense of protection. Inside or underneath these layers, it's a place packed full of fear, anger, sadness and seclusion. These are the things that come pouring out, and as they do it becomes easier to let them flow into the open, regardless of what the world thinks. It helps me to stop being afraid and brings out the thoughts and visions I'm truly feeling. The public seems to be welcoming these new images. It's still early. Of course, I'm not sure they know the meaning behind it. I might have just scared everyone off.
EP: Kelly, your amazing "Dollhouse/Dreamhouse" was a huge hit at your recent solo show at Thinkspace. Aside from its remarkable shingled-and-shuttered dollhouse framing device, the painting itself was haunting and unsettling in unprecedented ways. Should we expect to see more work along those lines at any of your upcoming shows? Do you have plans for any epic pieces you'd like to unveil in the future?
Kelly: Definitely! I had a lot of fun with that piece. I am playing with adding more detail and creating imaginative spaces for my characters to inhabit. I just love adding random things and flourishes. Even if they end up buried behind washes and glazes, they still add richness and depth to the painting. Painting that way certainly pushes the stream-of-consciousness way of working that pleases me most. I do have some epic ideas for the future, but I have to keep them in the cooker to stew a bit longer!
EP: I know that you two are big fans of each other's work.
Kelly: I have been following Jason's work for a few years and it never fails to be compelling in both subject and technique. I am constantly delighted to see his new work pop up on Flickr. His fantastical characters are full of personality and life (unless, like some of his electronic guys, they have run out of batteries!) and are painted with such skill I feel like I could reach out and grab one of their tendrils or poke one of their watery eyes. He is constantly imaginative and creative with his surfaces. We own his "Generate 1" piece, which is painted upon several interlocking canvas-covered panels he made himself. It is really amazing!
Jason: Yeah, I discovered Kelly's work through Flickr, among other artists that I admire. She invited me to take part in this exhibit with her back in March. (Thanks for that, Kelly!) I don't know the story behind her work, but as I peer into them, I feel I can relate. There is that sense of mystery and the characters hold quite a bit of emotion. To me, they tend to display familiar dark feelings. An interesting story can be imagined with every one of her pieces.
"Find a Way"
EP: What's next on the horizon? Hopes, dreams, future aspirations?
Jason: It's wide open. I mostly just plan to paint and to continue exploring. As for exhibitions, I'll be showing at Gallery 1988 SF in November, with Jeremiah Ketner, Jonathan Bergeron and Ken Keirns. In December will be Heiko Müller's "Don't Wake Daddy IV" in Hamburg, which will feature nothing but drawings. And in 2010 I have two solos scheduled, the first being in Chicago, which will be my first solo ever.
Kelly: I have a solo show at Halogen Gallery in Seattle this October, and then a smattering of pieces in group shows into the next year. I am looking forward to keeping an even stream of work going to keep me on my toes, but also longing for a bit of free time to explore new things. I will die if I stop painting! We are working on offering some more prints in a dedicated shop on my site and I would, eventually, love to put a book together of my work. I always have a myriad of plans!
EP: Thanks, you guys!
"Under the Cover of Darkness" will open on July 31st at Subtext in San Diego. I'll see you there!