Robischon Gallery presented an extensive solo exhibition for Colorado artist Kim Dickey (Denver, September 24 – November 7, 2015) and it is her most impressive showing to date. As the gallery notes, she is widely recognized for her assembled constructions of repeating glazed terracotta and stoneware elements.
Above image: Kim Dickey, Nightwatch (Blind Perception after Victor Hugo), glazed stoneware bat, 13 x 18 x 15 inches
The gallery states:
Dickey’s “Claustrum (Cloister)” invokes the architectural form of a medieval cloister sanctuary where a central garden was surrounded by walkways, which incorporated sculptures atop columns. Compellingly, the word claustrum, Latin for cloister, is also a neuroscience term for the part of the cerebral cortex where some believe consciousness resides. By alluding to the inherent mystery of the cloister both in design and concept, Dickey’s newest series recalls a period that has passed or a memory that has been forgotten while acknowledging the illusive nature of consciousness itself.
Dickey’s signature architectural topiaries are described sheathed in variously-hued greens in quatrefoil shapes are evocative of both the cultured or trimmed garden hedgerows as well as minimalist forms in art. The geometric forms define the gallery space while holding an expression of an exterior/interior investigation in reference to the cloister.
The artist developed her signature approach to her exhibited architectural forms in response to a 1964 NYC Green Gallery exhibition by noted Minimalist artist Robert Morris. With intent, Dickey referenced the abstracted forms of Morris’ L Beams and I Beams, as an acknowledgement of sculpture as it acts as a prop within the staging of a constructed architectural installation experience. Dickey’s Morris-inspired sculptures respect the forms in dialogue, while her extravagant approach toward her surfaces challenge the viewers’ perception in a decidedly different, more overtly-felt manner.
While they are impressive their sculptural strength as individual works is abating. The gallery’s own description of them as a “props” is telling as is the following which suggests that their role is to provide context and an “architectural space created within the exhibition by the bold, Minimalist referencing forms, [which] allow for Dickey’s sculptural animal inhabitants to reveal themselves to the viewer in a variety of ways.” The leaf-colored screens for hidden animals draws one’s eye and leaves these geometric hedges in the background, useful but not primary. They may have fared better on their own.
From intricately layered, white glazed stoneware to elaborate foliate-covered surfaces, Dickey’s creatures stand either in procession or in the case of the green-leafed animals, are deftly concealed nearby.
The artist’s inherently refined sense of order, expressed with her precisely placed, layered individual ceramic leaves, also cloak or dress each animal – as many are presented, such as the noble stag, located atop a formal, stylized white pedestal reminiscent of medieval columns. Each white creature in procession proudly communicates its appointed virtue, while Dickey’s green-leafed animals seem as if bewitched or possessing the magic to bewitch once their gaze is met.
Uniting fauna and flora both, the small and medium green-shrub forms conceal the enchanted hidden animals within – a fox, owl, or bear, as a suggestion that things might not be all as they appear, or even, are hiding in plain sight while the observers become the observed. Pivotal, and at the center of the exhibition, stands a ghostlike outthrust human arm with a shaped green laurel wreath in its grasp. This strategically placed sculpture acts as a pivot point – a symbol of victory amidst the allegorical virtues of the stately animals – as if to reaffirm the presence of an ever-flawed, yet ever-hopeful striving humanity.
Kim Dickey points out that her animals represent certain qualities such as fidelity, endurance, and timeliness:
And yet, for every assigned attribute, the meaning flips. It is something I perceive in the way these animals are employed in heraldic imagery and their attendant family mottos. While presenting themselves as moral champions, conversely the animals also embody the falseness or hubris of any claim to character strength. In other words, there is fallibility – vulnerability as exemplified by the porcupine – and that message is latently embedded in these images. As humans, our strength lies in this reminder of imperfection, in our humility and our consciousness of this fact.”
Dickey’s exhibition concludes with a small box that Robischon describes as concisely expressing her keen sense of theoretical discourse across time. Quatrefoil covered in her unique and personal style, the box is paying homage to Robert Morris’, Box with the Sound of Its Own Making, a work that featured a recording of sawing and hammering. Dickey’s piece entitled Grotto (Box with the Sound of Its Own Making) also emits its own studio audio – the kneading of clay, the spritzing of a water bottle, and the sound of birdcalls and musical phrases. This final offering in the exhibition is a fitting expression of Kim Dickey’s complex creative search, conceptual impetus, theatrical sense of space, and her abiding reverence for the natural world.
This is more than an impressive exhibition. It is the demonstration of newfound sculptural power in her work that is based more on intimacy now than the grand gesture of topiaries. Her long play with encrustation from flora now finds its way to fauna and suggests the human figure may be edging in, all of which is riveting, alluring, and uses her medium to sensual perfection.
Garth Clark is the Chief Editor of CFile.
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