A History Lesson – Kaminski Style

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.

BaghdadLast 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_KaminskiWounded 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_KaminskiCollapse 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_KaminskiIntersection 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_KaminskiGhost 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.

 

 

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F.A.M.E NYC Recommends Make ‘Em All Mexican

Elvis is known as the king, but what if his last name was Chavez and instead of being the king of rock ‘n roll, he was the king of Tejano?  Marilyn Monroe has remained the pinnacle of Hollywood beauty and sex appeal for over 50 years, but what if her last name was really Martinez?  What if Superman was actually an Aztec warrior from another plane of existence instead of an alien from another planet?  What if this nation’s founding fathers actually migrated from Mexico instead of Great Britain?  Elvis Chavez…Marilyn Martinez…George Washington with a permanent tan?  How would these modifications change the course of American history and iconography if they were true?  If you have ever pondered questions like these, then I’ve got something to share with you.

Vallejo5-182x300FAMERS, I’ve got the scoop on something hilariously provocative coming this way via the other coast.  Beginning next month the Lower East Side’s Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural & Educational Center will play host to a Chicano invasion courtesy of L.A. based artist Linda Vallejo.  For 20 years Vallejo’s work had been influenced by her study of ancient culture, architecture and symbols.  In recent years, Vallejo has taken memories of growing up in the segregated South during the 1960s and her experiences as a Mexican-American, Chicana to produce a new series titled “Make ‘Em All Mexican.”

“Make ‘Em All Mexican” uses cheeky wit to address a larger topic, which can be drilled down to one fact, the skin we are born in colors our perception of the world and our experiences.  Although it speaks to the Latino/Mexican-American/Chicano conundrum directly, it’s by no means a show for Latinos exclusively.  In fact, members of all minority groups in this country have a story that is reflected in this exhibition.  It’s a springboard in which we can all dive deeper into the issues that fester in the stitches of the stars and stripes.  “Make ‘Em All Mexican” is ripe for the Big Apple, adding an essential dash of spice to melting pot of this city.  I got an opportunity to speak with Linda as she prepares to bring her show to Manhattan.  She answered a few questions about herself and the importance of the show.

1.    What made you want to become an artist?

I have always been an artist.  I think I was born that way.  My first experience was at four-years-old in kindergarten.  We were finger painting on large pieces of paper with an egg drawn on it for Easter.  I was on my knees with my hands in the paint and I can still remember the smell.  I loved it and I knew it.  I was also very fortunate to have a first grade teacher that used literature to inspire painting projects.  We would read a book and then go to the back of the classroom to paint with easels and brushes on large pads of paper.  I won several prizes and loved the literature/visual art link which still inspires me today.  I sang as a young girl in the church choir and painted.  At twelve, I was playing guitar, writing music and painting.  In high school, I designed clothes, wrote music and painted, and in college I worked in theater, wrote music and painted.  All my life.  An artist is simply an artist.  We can’t help it…we’ve just got to live it.

2.    New York City has a large Hispanic population. As a west coast based artist how important is it to you for this show to be seen in NYC and why?

All my colleagues in Los Angeles are very happy that I’m taking the work to New York.  New York shows mean a great deal to any artistic career.  “Brown” isn’t just a West Coast/Los Angeles/Mexican phenomenon, the politics of color is a global issue.  I am very excited to connect with Mexicanos, Cubanos and Puerto Riquenos in New York to expand the conversation, share our stores and heal some wounds.  A positive response from the New York arts community would certainly give MEAM additional cache as New York is still considered the center of the art world.

3.    When you summon the creative gods to assist you with your work, who do you pray to?

I ask the Sacred Four Directions, Mother Earth, Father Sky, and Great Spirit to help me create an image with meaning and purpose.

4.    Today…right now, which piece out of “Make ‘Em All Mexican” is your favorite and why?

I’m enthralled with the new larger series of sculptures including “Super Hombre.”  It took weeks to find a 1:1 ratio/life size bust of Super Man.  My fabricator, Chino, is a car body specialist and a perfectionist.  I have been working with him for months on this new series that creates a “car culture sub-text” by painting repurposed sculpture “as if they were cars” including metal flake, hand painting, and chrome details.  The result is a luscious chocolate coating that many say is “good enough to eat!”  One person said, “Super Hombre” is “Chocoliscious!” or “I want to lick it!”

First the viewer laughs out load, then she or he is seduced by the luscious edible beauty of the object itself, and then the questions start pouring in:  Is brown good enough?  Can brown be beautiful? Can a superhero be brown? The answers are, absolutely!  There are five of these larger works and three of them will be in NYC, but I’m only sharing the additional images with those that make it to the show in New York.

5.    If you were asked to describe “Make ‘Em All Mexican” to a New Yorker using three words, which words would you pick?

Brown is beautiful!

“Make ‘Em All Mexican” opens at Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural & Educational Center, located at 107 Suffolk St, on April 3 and includes an artist talk and discussion.  FAMERS don’t wait until Cinco de Mayo to channel your inner Chicano.  Get down to the barrio of the Lower East Side and get a good dose of artistic consciousness.