By Heather Bowling
Recent paintings by Dallas-based artist Danielle Kimzey give form to the challenge of making work that is “loud, in a polite way.” Vibrant color choices and intricate patterns draw the viewer into the surface of her small, painted wood panels. Hold You (2016) features a dense mass of forms defined by color rather than line, with tiny discoveries and surprises that unfold the closer one presses to the image. Solid fields of flat color defined by sharp edges seem certain from a distance, but those facts unravel up close. At a more intimate distance, the painting’s color fields reveal their depth and variation, the sharpness of the edges proves only an illusion, and a painterly quality in the brushwork asserts itself discreetly. The dense composition manages to maintain a sense of slow, almost painstaking movement, carrying the eye to every edge of the panel, pulling it in different directions. Kimzey creates paintings slowly and organically, each decision given careful thought like movements in a game of chess. Despite this, she keeps a sense of spontaneity and dynamism within the work: forms are wobbly yet stable, deliberate but unmeasured, organic but not gestural, and somehow dense with a sense of movement. Hold You manages to live up to its title, expressing interrelated feelings of safety, desire, and confinement while existing in a state of stable transition - bright and loud, polished and polite.
Works in this series of recent small paintings explore a reoccurring dichotomy of structure and chaos. In Anna and Elsa (2016) bold, pink gestural marks peek through writhing, layered forms defined by color that suggests line without giving in to it. Once again the viewer’s eye is directed in circular movements around the surface, and drawn in closer to the loose brushstrokes that lie beneath solid forms. This painting refers to sisters from Disney’s ubiquitous animated film Frozen (2014) that encapsulates the constructive methods and imaginative dynamism that Kimzey finds inspiring in the tradition of storytelling. Her stated interest in the film derives from its ability to captivate the viewer with its story and characters, creating a magical alternate world where the mind escapes the present. In her paintings, Kimzey sets the rules and parameters like a fiction writer would, and methodically works her way from a chaotic beginning to a logical conclusion. Kimzey draws inspiration from the mesmerizing power of a good story, whether classic novels, short stories of fiction, or shows made for children, due in part to the set structures within these alternate realities that convince us to inhabit other worlds and characters.
As a parent to young children, Kimzey’s daily experience is fragmented by the demands of motherhood, allowing her only short blocks of time in which to practice her art. Recent new paintings (such as Anna and Elsa) have started by allowing her daughter to select colors and make marks on the blank panel, which the artist then uses as a reference point from which to build the composition, a process which may take several weeks. Ironically these chaotic and gestural marks set the structure, or compositional problem for Kimzey to solve, creating depth, integrating the background and the foreground, interacting with her daughter’s marks, and giving them more sophisticated meaning. These interactions are intimate, and bring to mind personal histories of traits and habits passed down, modified, rejected, and embraced by many different generations of the same family. Embracing the freedom of her three-year-old daughter’s mark-making, earlier works like The Doc (2015) attempt to imitate her child’s abandon and ability to draw without fear, expectation, or history, recalling the creative processes of certain modernist painters. Perhaps more successful iterations of this interest in controlled spontaneity can be seen in Caillou (2016) where the balance of chaos and structure finds a perfect tension. By referencing the attention absorbing power of stories created for children, and by responding to the creative impulses and choices of her daughter, the artist posits narrative and imagination as a foil for her fragmented daily experience, bringing unity and order to her work.
From the heroic gestural marks of Jackson Pollock and the Abstract Expressionists, to the lush painterly quality of brushstrokes made during the resurgence of painting in the 1970’s and ‘80s by the likes of Philip Guston, the tradition of gestural painting has always been emotive and personal. At a time when many artists are expected to work in new media, Kimzey unapologetically situates her practice within the modernist painting tradition, deploying both gesture and pattern to filter and synthesize the fragmentation of her own daily experience. Seemingly disparate inspirations like novels, television shows, the scribbles of her child, combined with casual observations seen in a fleeting shadow or the pattern of tile on the bathroom floor, are unified in significance by the artist’s personal experience of objects, images, stories, and ideas that move in and out of her own life. Kimzey does not strive to monumentalize her experiences by working on a grand scale. Instead, the artist works on an intimate scale, limiting works in this series to 16 x 16 inches, a size conducive to an intimate experience by a single viewer. She seems to follow the observation once made by Alice Aycock, that “the work of many women artists [has] derived an interesting and particularizing eccentricity from an exceptional responsiveness to the realities of their lives.”
Despite her daughter’s participation in the early development of certain paintings’ composition, or title references to children’s narrative, Kimzey’s paintings do not seem to be about motherhood at all. They do not assume the political postures of overtly feminist art, nor do they comment on cultural expectations of women. It is tempting to draw a comparison between some works in this series and Mary Kelly’s “Post-Partum Document” (1973-79). Kelly’s series is a six-year exploration of the mother/child relationship featuring found objects of the first six years of her son’s life, including dirty diapers, documents, and the uninhibited scribbles of her young child. In this way both she and Kimzey shed light on a world that is often ignored as an appropriate or serious subject of fine art. While both artists use found images specific to the intense and tumultuous life of a parent with a young child, Kelly imbues this piece with the distanced rationalism of scientific analysis, while Kimzey emphasizes subjective, formal concerns along with the collision of worlds past and present, real and imagined. She says, “…these paintings aren't about being a mother. They are just a continuation of what my mind thinks and visually processes. If anything, motherhood has focused the lens more on objects that come in and out of our lives rapidly, characters that take us out of the routine, and what we spend our time looking at….” All of these objects, ideas, and images provide, “a compass, a map, a choreography to find balance and I'll say it, joy, because, really, that is what I seek.”
The artist draws courage from contemporary artists like Elizabeth Murray and her ability to follow a train of association wherever it leads, as well as her tendency to superimpose successive thoughts on top of each other in her compositions. Kimzey also cites the paintings of Laura Owens as primary influences. Owens’ works appear intuitive upon initial inspection, however as the viewing experience unfolds, broad gestures and sophisticated color combinations reveal a technical expertise that masks agonizing formal decisions. Artist Mary Heilmann also informs Kimzey’s creative process, through her tendency to combine a wide range of influences and inspirations gathered from disparate sources, but also her ability to playfully work with serious ideas. Kimzey’s works are not ironic and angst-ridden, nor do they try to keep pace with art world trends. Instead, she makes paintings that are expressive, honest, and focused on color, form, and process.
Even though not overtly feminist in nature, these works embrace the reality of a woman’s daily experience with a certain pride and ownership. Kimzey explains, “the feminist aspect of my work might be the freedom to embrace my own idiosyncrasies and not be embarrassed by my work.” She elaborates by corroborating her own daily experience with the space of her paintings, in that “they are like me, embarrassing, silly, vibrant, they aim to please, be amenable, not frustrate or confuse. They don't take up any ‘manspace’ so their presence isn't too obvious or abrasive, but I feel that collectively they take over a space and subtly overwhelm, influence, and surround.” She taps into a subtle power, an assertive courage to exist in the art world on her own terms. Danielle Kimzey fearlessly translates of the ephemera of her daily life to a painterly form, combining technical skill with a pensive awareness to create multilayered pieces that are complex, joyful, assertive, loud, and yes, polite.