Since the beginning of mankind, humans have kept records of events. These narratives shape our civilization. People turn to the history books to learn about the past, understand the present and possibly predict the future. But visual art can sometimes render words unnecessary. Such is the case of Ken Kaminski and his paintings that chronicle the events of 911, the recovery period that continues to unfold and indeed the period before September 11, 2001. Through hues of purple, yellow, red, blue, black, white, and through the style of Abstract Expressionism, Ken Kaminski retells a story that is permanently etched in the minds of everyone in this nation.
Last August Kaminski’s 9/11 Paintings were featured at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Edward Williams Gallery. This exhibit offered viewers a pictorial on canvas spanning from the airplanes slicing through perfect blue skies, to the chaos and destruction of the twin towers and ultimately their demise. And like history, the lessons of the past can and sometimes do repeat themselves. With Kaminski the story of his 9/11 work has come back around again and although the plot is slightly altered, the impact is just as potent. On January 31, Kaminski’s Recovery Paintings exhibit opened at Walter Wickiser Gallery. The exhibit is comprised of seven paintings: Baghdad (1991), Wounded Towers (2002), Collapse (2011), Intersection (2011), Intersection 2 (2011) and Ghost Towers (2011). On the crisp white walls of this Chelsea gallery, Kaminski’s paintings and the story they convey take on new life.
The tale begins with Baghdad. Geometric shapes burst from a tawny plain. Waves of red and black anchor the bottom to the painting. In a way these impressions look like oil and blood that has been shed for that oil. Dead center is a bull’s eye. If a history buff was inclined to trace back the events that led to 9/11 one would have to make a stop at Baghdad, in fact, some might argue it was the first ground zero.
Wounded Towers goes straight to the center of that horrible day. As the towers bend, slowly yielding to their fate, bold colors of red, white, blue, yellow, green and black entangle the surface. Between the brushstrokes and paint Kaminski smeared with his fingers, the agony of the fuming towers is consciously and unconsciously evident. While I viewed this painting last year, this time I was able to see a under case “p” resting in the middle. When I saw it I was gobsmacked. Why haven’t I seen it before? P…pain, and why haven’t I ever used that word to describe that day?
Collapse is an overwhelmingly tumultuous piece. You can see the tower being taken asunder in copious shades of blue and black and streaks of yellow and orange and a splash of red. As with Wounded Towers a “p” appears in the center of the painting. It’s dark and sweeps over you like a tidal wave.
Intersection and Intersection 2 return once again, and more directly, to the geometric shapes that are present in Baghdad only these shapes are surrounded by thicker, darker hues. The dense globules of paint reminded me of the soot that covered the surrounding area of Ground Zero or the heavy plumes of smoke that hovered over the smoldering remnants for days. Like its title these works act as a conduit linking what was to what is and the possibly of what might be.
Ghost Towers is a piece with spiritual dimensions. In this work Kaminski pays homage to lives lost on 9/11. In total, all of these works tell a distinct story about history from a very distinct point of view. But chronicling modern events using paint and canvas is only one of the narratives this exhibit tells. The other signifies the title of the exhibit itself, Recovery Paintings. Although Kaminski has fused sociopolitical themes into his work previously, the paintings that were influenced by the events of 9/11 were his therapy – a way to reconcile the horror and enormity of a moment in time that continues to affect us. Indeed his recovery has become our recovery and as we continue to look back on 9/11 while trying to navigate our present and future, Kaminski gives a starting point that can be used in our healing as we continue to record and create history.