i always contrast the more recent stuff (say, 2007-present) with some of the older work, stuff i saw from 2004/05, and feel like some sort of roundness – materially and pictorially – that i really liked from the earlier stuff is not present now. this isn’t an indictment of the work, but more a quandary for me. what did he feel like he gained in that shift. was it a sort of “addition by subtraction” sort of thing? there was a steve-buddington-esque kind of negotiation of the plastic sense of the forms that has gone out of the work.
the current work does still seem to hold a place affirming more dimensionality than, say, laylah ali, but it has lost more and more of the constructed fullness in deference to more flatness of composition and paint handling. one of the things that really fired me up in the earlier work was that i read a kind of discussion with lennart anderson or leland bell, particularly in terms of the stylization of the compositional relationships among the figures.
i guess what i’m saying is that i see a progression and a shift of sensibilities, but i’m not sure how i feel about it.
i think this just be one of those cases when the decisions for change weren’t necessarily being made based on traditional aesthetics, but more to reflect a dialogue with a kind of relational aesthetics.
matt, i think you may have been at one of his crits in 05? i remember that those paintings did have a lot to do with Lennart Anderson and that part of the confusion about the reality that Kelly was trying to paint had to do with just how that reality fit into the type of classicism Anderson was engaged with. like… how was the content of Kelly’s painted world gaining anything from being painted through such sensitive, subdued, classicism?
the contradiction wasn’t making any sense. and he didn’t necessarily know where he fit relative to the tradition of his education. so, in my memory of talking in his studio with him, part of his movement toward his current aesthetic was about defining something for himself in the paint that was more ‘on’ or imbued with the content.
these are great. the lennart thing – i wouldn’t have guessed it right away, but it’s really there, even in this newer work. and nothing against lennart, but i get into these with way more ease and enjoyment than those late idyll paintings.
It’s kind of thrilling and confounding all at once to be able to actually watch this kind of evolution. Is it progress? Is it regress? There is a playful slyness to this work for me, and for all the immediacy and energy, they seem un-ingratiating and necessary and brave. For example, in the image above, the way color leads me to understand that this kid is becoming his environment, that the structures around and within are merging.
And I guess I dig the way the pictures are making me work.
i think we could take this discussion to a similar place as the one on eric sall’s work from a few posts back (but we don’t have to, by any means, just if anyone feels similarly). if so, the question i have is: these look like fun and not too hard to paint. what’s at risk? is there a formula? is it too…uh, formulaic?
I don’t think that Kelly’s work is playful in the same sense that Sall’s work is. As far as process goes, I can see Sall messing around in the studio and developing new techniques and approaches, but I don’t see this as a primary concern for Kelly.
However, I do see Kelly dealing directly with a narrative quality in the art that definitely involves risk. Kelly is certainly addressing issues of identity and there is plenty of social commentary involved, so I think there isn’t really a lack of risk, just a different manifestation of it.
I really love both Sall and Kelly because of the very fact that their work can be read in so many ways. I see the element of playfulness very clearly, yet there is something very serious going on beneath the surface with both of these artists.
While Kelly’s paintings may not appear too hard to paint the ideas are fresh and the painting chops are pretty awesome when it comes to the lighting.
formulaic as in, these kind of read like glorified color-mixing exercises? which, also might have some to do with the residue of the Lennart thing.
or, formulaic as in ‘this is what change looks like.’ and, sometimes change collapses into nothing more than a new kind of stasis?
“not too hard to paint” is very tricky territory, in that, to copy this painting as a received piece of visual expression might not be terribly difficult (although it well might). To “paint” this as a newly discovered experience, that is, to go through the process by which the above image is found THROUGH painting, that is an accomplishment that I think stands apart, in difficulty and know-ability.
Acknowledged, it is a tricky thing to say. I use it to mean the technique seems like it could be emulated with relative ease – and not to speak of the working toward and discovery within the painting process. It’s only one angle of thinking. I’d say the same thing about Morandi. While I think it’d be very hard to do a convincing Morandi, it seems possible. Inviting, even…
I’m assuming that the emphasis is on “these LOOK like fun and not too hard to paint”? That seems reasonable.
The thing with these is, and the thing I have some reservations about, is how little these appear to insist that they need to be made with paint. I can’t shake the feeling that they images would be just as satisfying if they were rendered in Adobe Illustrator. Do they need to be paintings or could they be cool webcomics or animations.
Someone brought up Steve Budington before, and with that work, there’s a weird dissonance between the surreal post-human figures and the almost Cezanne-esque brushwork. It seems like Kelly’s work was once working toward something similar. Arguing against his Indiana U. critics, it might be the fact that it didn’t make sense to paint his painted world in that particular classical manner that was the work’s saving grace.
I wouldn’t want to feel like I was arguing against progress, if it’s true that we’re just seeing an awkward mid-point here, but there are some reservations I have about what I’m seeing here. Again referring back to a thought from the Eric Sall discussion, it’s possible to make awful illustrations of theory as easily as it is too make awful illustrations of the Book of Job. And I’m not sure that good deployment of theory or narrative need to be so logical, so sans contradiction.
On another note, I’ve brought this up before, but I still maintain that making nice, complex figurative works is the absolute most difficult thing to do in art at the present moment. There’s no easily detectable in-your-face sexuality, no disease, deformity, apocalypse, snarkiness. I feel super-supportive of this guy just because I think that’s what he’s trying.
guess it kind of also depends on whether or not the above work is the end of the line or the exception to the rule. certainly, not every painting can be the ‘new best painting’. things rarely go so predictably forward. and, i reserve some strong skepticism for the notion that paintings are made to palliate the viewer or to illustrate theory. last time i checked, theory was produced out of things things being practiced in the real world, not real practice modeling itself after theory… a pursuit which would seem redundant and smack of some serious un-fun. change is possibly equal parts recognition and response, but, rarely entirely willful.
with these, i do question the level of engagement with the narrative. how necessary it seems. he seems to take a lot of enjoyment in the color, shape and edge issues. i start to wonder how necessary it is that these choices become about figuration. but, that’s the difference between form and subject matter. it seems more fitting to critique them concerning how they go together…but rarely fitting to parse them out and critique them separately.
Spending a little more time looking at these, I think that Thierry Goldberg Gallery’s website might be feeding some of my doubts. The press release puts a lot of emphasis on the 8-Bit looking pixelated things. The images on the Khalif Kelly page don’t seem to be organized by date or with consideration to which works are more major or minor, and he does seem to make major and minor works. And that does make a difference. My worry is that he might be streamlining, becoming overly logical—or even simplistic—in terms of negotiating how form and content do come together.
When I try to sort these out chronologically, or in terms of which works are major, I do see ambiguity, which is what I’m looking for.
There does seem to be some back-and-forth between the more faux-digital paintings and the more modelled, significant form paintings. There do seem to be places, casting lights through the composition or cross contour brushstroking around a head that hint at certain idiosyncratic, compulsive need to use paint.
Also, I’m really rooting for the narratives. It’s pretty easy to imagine that in a few years Kelly might be off being a ‘conceptual-artist-who-paints’ and all these issues like narrative, like form or physical engagement might be totally off the table. But if he could pull these things off—these things that he’s doing that are sort of Mark Twain/Dennis the Menace—it would be really amazing.
Hello everyone. This is a very interesting conversation–I wish there was a way to do a studio visit together, but I suppose that this is the next best thing.
There are several things that have been said that will serve as food for thought and others that are currently sources of consideration that will continue to be so.
Though I am tempted to set the record a bit straighter on some issues, I will resist for fear of derailing the fruitful conversation that has already been generated. You all seem to be thoughtful and very talented people (some of you whom I know personally), and the level of discourse here bares serious heeding. It is a pleasure to read the thoughts of knowledgeable artists.
Wow. Thanks for checking in, Khalif. I like your leaving it that way, a mystery about which things are right on and which things are way off target. Not knowing which makes us have to think twice on all of it. We’re all here to learn. As you probably know, most of the time this kind of discussion is 50% about the art, and 50% about ideas that are tumbling around participants’ heads for other reasons. Thanks for letting us indulge.
I am impressed and pleased by the level of dialogue that Khalif’s current show has generated. Not a critic, but a fan, I was blown away by the surface simplicity of the “Recess” pieces (pun unintended). As a person who works exclusively with adolescents, I can easily imagine the layers of backstory for each piece. I appreciate both the skill involved in creating these works and the universality of youth development that helped to inform them. Khalif’s development of this series shows deep insight and truly resonated with me.