British artist Simon Kirk brings his beguiling work to the U.S. for the first time at Flag’s new Gallery 113
By Heather Ayres
Published on 10/13/2011
Rough, vibrant etchings and collages fill dozens of 5-by-7-inch pieces of plywood, each one a story unto itself. Each piece is a testament to the creativity and originality of English artist Simon Kirk and his work currently on display in his first U.S. exhibit at the brand new Gallery 113 in downtown Flagstaff. An artist his entire life, Kirk attended university in England where he earned a degree in fine art. He took his talents to London in an effort to make a name for himself in the art world.“I moved to London to pursue my art career but found that working to pay the high rents left little time to paint,” says Kirk. “It was only when I moved back to my hometown of Leigh that I really had the opportunity to start my career.”It was in Leigh, located 30 miles outside of London, that Kirk’s art took precedent and began to thrive.“I was able to start creating a body of work and build my reputation. I’m very lucky in that sense … it’s great to live in a place with so many likeminded people. It offers opportunities for critical engagement and collaborative,” says Kirk.Kirk’s art found its home in sketchbooks where intimacy and artistic expression met in harmony with one another.
Translating these characteristics into gallery-ready material presented the bigger challenge.
“The relationship between a viewer and an image in a sketchbook is entirely different to the relationship between viewer and image on a wall,” says Kirk. “With a sketchbook, they can be tactile; they hold the book in their hands. There is a notion of intimacy, in contrast to the image on the wall which has become ‘a piece of art’ even though it may be essentially the same image.”
Over time Kirk took the idea of working in a sketchbook and applied it to his pieces. He transformed the art from his initial drawings to chunks of wood that Kirk then built up with paint and paper while continually referencing the sketches that were the birth places of his work.“[My process] echoes the editing process that would take place in a sketchbook,” says Kirk. “Ideas develop and decisions about composition all take place of the piece itself … the size not only makes it easier to shift around as I work, it is also less intimidating. It’s a more direct and personal way of working for me; I can be spontaneous and ideas filter through me quicker and I think the audience responds to that.”
Small and inviting, Kirk’s wall pieces completely lack the intimidation that can be experienced when looking at other larger pieces of artwork. It is this inviting nature that drew Gallery 113 owner and curator Jill Divine to bring Kirk’s artwork to Flagstaff.Connecting via the Internet, Divine first made contact with Kirk to get him on board with doing an exhibit half way across the world.“This is the total social network media age and I found him on Facebook,” says Divine. “… I could have never found him otherwise … one of my friends on Facebook really liked him and there was a little blurb about him and I had to get him.”Kirk’s enthusiastic response to having an exhibit in Flagstaff prompted him to send his work to Divine to be put on display for the month of October.“When I got this box and opened it up I had them spread all over my living room. I had to take them out and see them because they are just so cool,” says Divine.
For Divine, the compact stature invites the audience to get close to each piece breaching the barrier so often found between the art and the viewer. This intimacy tempts the audience—even dares them—to reach out and touch Kirk’s work and become a part of it.Created a world away, Kirk’s art is somehow at home in the American Southwest; a flavor of America from the 1950s by way of England. Each piece is drenched in vibrant hues of yellows, oranges and reds giving them a burst of life that echoes a desert during sunset. While each piece is brought together through color, style and composition, each one can stand on its own providing a unique insight into the stories they divulge. Each one features the marriage of printed words and pictures with a twist of humor, described by Kirk as being of the darker variety. The individual works are bizarrely captivating and reveal new layers as one spends more time studying them.“[They] are like fine haiku,” says Divine. “They are small but they have this little hit to them; this little hit. In a little space they have a lot of insight.”
Titles like “Antiques Road Show” prompt viewers to discover the reasoning behind the monikers and how they relate to the graphics depicted. Images from comic books and words combine to create a sense of whimsy and juxtaposition of materials that is done deliberately and with purpose, rather than simply being a happy accident.“I have boxes of collage material and texts that I’m working from, so there are limitless combinations,” says Kirk. “But ultimately, I have control over the composition and if something doesn’t work I can see it. As [abstract figurative painter] Francis Bacon said, ‘All painting is an accident.’ But it’s also not an accident, because one must select what part of the accident one chooses to preserve.”
It is this humorous no-angst art that Divine is pleased to present at her new gallery in downtown Flagstaff. “It is nice sometimes to have the thoughtfulness without the depressing drama in art,” says Divine, “[Kirk] makes sense of things in a creative and unique way that boarders on the cheeky.”Cheekiness, dark humor and a vibrant otherworldliness matched by the timing of Dia de los Muertos, Simon Kirk’s art fits in seamlessly with the kitschy, eclectic culture of Flagstaff; a new home away from home.See the artwork of Simon Kirk at Gallery 113, 113 E. Birch.