Crossing the Ocean
I find my face hovering a few inches from the wall after a long journey home from London. Staring right back at me is the ambiguous and beautiful collage/found art of English artist Simon Kirk. His pieces claim the wall in numbers, all miniature wonders, each packed with layers and veils of secreted imagery and phrasing, giving me the feeling that the more I look, the more there is to see.
Mr. Kirk wasn’t always creating art in this fashion. “When I was younger I was predominantly a figurative painter, very traditional in that sense,” he tells me. “It was really when I went to art college and then onto university that my style began to evolve. I immediately felt limited by my style. My first real development came through sculpture. I wasn’t ready to leave the figure behind entirely, so I’d sculpt a body or a hand and then focus on one part of the piece and make abstract drawings and paintings from it. I still felt a connection to the figure but I was expressing myself in an entirely different way.
“I discovered the work of William Burroughs and began introducing text into my work, which then evolved into incorporating elements of collage. At this stage, I was working predominantly in books, which as I have mentioned brought its own ‘problem’ – how to translate the work onto the wall. I experimented with screen printing, which I found effective but unsatisfying. I had all the elements of my work in place, the things that would inspire me going forward, but I couldn’t find a way to communicate them. I graduated in 1999, and I’d say I was still developing my style up until about three or four years ago, when it all clicked into place perfectly. I compare it to learning an instrument in so far as you can’t express the music in your head if you don’t learn the mechanics first.”
What intrigues me about art is each artist’s different way of creating. For some it’s mechanical, others fluid and free. Mr. Kirk says for himself that it’s almost as if he is in a trance. “In my mind I’m planning what I will do with the piece in front of me several moves ahead, based on what juxtapositions of text and collage I can see in the boxes all around and how that might relate to the existing composition. It can be a memory game; this piece of collage would be perfect for this piece, now where did I see it? To keep the work fresh and spontaneous, if I hit a brick wall, I move the piece aside and come back to it at another time. I like to work across multiple pieces, and I surround myself with boxes of collage material and my cut up texts.
“Much of the text is cut from pages of novels, but rather than following the story I scan through the prose to find poems or phrases by linking words from sentences. In my variation of the cut up technique, I must be able to cut the poem I create out in one section – it functions as a collage piece in itself. I am using what is on the page but distorting the sense through my editing.”
I ask Mr. Kirk how he found himself with a show so far away in Flagstaff, Arizona. “Jill Divine saw my work on a friend’s wall on Facebook and contacted me initially about purchasing some pieces for herself,” he begins. “When she mentioned that Gallery One 13 was opening and asked if I would like to show work there, I was thrilled. The size of the works meant it was a realistic prospect and so I sent over an initial package of 35, followed by several more.”
In the future Mr. Kirk hopes to continue showing his work internationally, and has shows coming up in the New Year in his home country. His miniature corner of the world can be seen at Gallery One 13, located at 113 East Birch Avenue in Downtown Flagstaff.
‘Flagstaff Live!’ Magazine - Flagstaff, Arizona October 13 – 19th 2011, Vol. 17 Issue 41 www.flaglive.com
Cover story and feature on first US exhibition
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.
'Gallery 113 provides a new zeal for art'
By Naomi Thalenberg
In today’s frugal economy, it can be risky to open a new business, especially one which sells hand-crafted fine arts. Despite the risk of failure, Jill Divine, owner of Gallery 113 on Birch Street, said she believes providing the community with inspired artwork is an endeavor worth taking. What used to be the location of an antique store has recently transformed into a small gallery exhibiting different works of art such as ceramic vases, mugs, canvas paintings, photography and hand-made jewelry.
Divine said she has always had an eye for the arts, making the idea of opening a gallery one that was impossible to leave astray.
“It was probably in June when I started thinking ‘What am I doing creatively?’” Divine said. “I am teaching poetry, which I love, but not really doing anything else actively and creatively. I started feeling like I’m in the autumn of my life, so I thought I needed to do something new. I needed to have something vibrant happening.”
Divine finished her master’s degree in English with an emphasis in poetry from NAU in 1995 and has been teaching both subjects at Coconino Community College for the past 12 years. After selling her previous business, local downtown wine venue Vino Loco in 2005, Divine published her first book of poems, Game, and later received her life-coaching certificate in her continued search for a business to reflect her passions.
“My main tendency is to dive into things,” Divine said. “I’ve always said that I have never had a real job [because] I’ve always tried to get jobs that are flexible. My job is to be an appreciator. I appreciate things — things that are art, and I’ve always loved art.”
Gallery 113 now offers eight different artists’ contemporary works including ceramic pieces by Barry Carpenter, western photography by Neil Henderson and the gallery’s most recent addition, the textured collages of British artist Simon Kirk, whose art has been featured in Denmark, Germany and UK.
Unlike usual gallery norms where people cannot touch a thing and prices contain multiple zeros, Divine said she seeks to make her gallery affordable to the Flagstaff public.
“Functional art is wonderful, original and amazing beautiful art,” Divine said. “There is really fine artwork [that is] affordable so that people can put art in their homes. I want people to be able to come in and pick up and touch anything.”
NAU senior Emily Williams, an intern at the gallery, earns credit toward her Art and Cultural Management minor by working in the store. This is the first year NAU has offered this minor for students interested in learning about the sustainability and business aspect of art. Williams said she is elated to be a part of Divine’s new business and learn the ups and downs of owning a gallery.
“I’ve always liked creating artwork and when I got to school I didn’t necessarily think I could major in the fine arts,” Williams said. “I chose art history to learn about art but it wasn’t until I discovered my minor that I knew what I wanted to do.”
Williams was one of the first students to declare an Art and Cultural Management minor and said she hopes the subject can one day be popular enough to become a major.
“I love being here with a position to share art with people,” Williams said. “How far can art really go? It can take me wherever I want to go . . . Jill brings in artwork and in a sense it’s like making your own artwork — you have a canvas and you can fill it with what you think is visually appealing.”
Divine said she knows that not all the art she carries will sell due to the current low demand for art; however, she believes the pure manifestation of art in society is necessary even if it does not always bring her a profit.
“I don’t want to just have things in here that I think will sell,” Divine said pointing at a hand beaded pizza named “black olives on half” by Justina Coffey. “This [beaded pizza] is so weird, but the time to do that is such an artistic thing and a commitment; I want to keep it in here for people to look at and to see what she does.”
Divine said she plans on changing the artwork every two months, but most of the pieces she has in now she will carry through the holiday season.
“In this gallery, I’m going to show things that catch my eye and hope that it’s universal enough to appeal to a lot of people,” Divine said. “I’ll definitely keep a wide variety of art with photographs, jewelry, ceramics and paintings, but I look forward to find things that are attractive and [are] a little bit different.”
Gallery 113 is open Thurs. through Sat., from 11 a.m.-5 p.m.