Interview: Crystal “Kitty” Shimski with Dennis Kardon

Guest contributor Crystal “Kitty” Shimski, widely admired in the art community as a
freelance Intuitive Technique Specialist and part-time Trance Inducer.
Kitty usually contributes our Horoscopes, but this month she has
submitted an interview with Dennis Kardon, on the occasion of his solo exhibition at
Valentine. As always, Kitty’s post has been transcribed by guest contributor Jennifer Coates, whose solo “Carb Load” will be on view at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, April 27 through July 17, 2016.

Kitty Shimski: Do you feel that you have embedded yourself in the crinkling encrusted tin foil forms? They push into reality with their insistent physicality and become almost like self parodies. Is tinfoil a metaphor for the social nature of painting? Are you using it to mock painting or mock yourself?
Dennis Kardon: Yes. Possibly. No, or maybe. Or rather, the aging process crinkles and encrusts. These paintings are more and more about aging. My consciousness through my body is always fully embedded in the surface of my paintings. The physical surface is always present, but the referential metaphoric surface can retreat or protrude, sometimes both. Looking at my paintings should be a frustrating attempt at surface alignment. The fact that tin foil, in its disposability, and use in covering and containing is an inextricable part of contemporary life, I guess makes it social. But then you are assuming my random seeming collection of grey paint is paint blobs is an attempt to paint tin foil. I never mock paint, though paint often mocks me.

[Image at top: A rare image of Crystal “Kitty” Shimski, with one of Dennis Kardon’s enigmatic paintings.]

 Dennis Kardon, Ad Hoc Arrangement, oil on canvas.

KS: When you wield a palette knife are you thinking of Bob Ross?
DK: You mean like thinking about using it to scrape his rotting flesh off his cold dead bones? Too soon? No. My only artistic TV model artist was Jon Gnagy, I’m way too old for Bob Ross. Seriously though, when I use a palette knife it is to create the look of being out of control, especially when representing something that is inherently chaotic or arbitrary, so that it doesn’t draw attention to the specificity of my decisions. Wait, is that how Bob Ross uses it?
 Dennis Kardon, Anticipating Disaster, oil on canvas.

KS: Please talk to me about ambiguity. Your shadows and reflections contain vague figural information. A distorted Consciousness inserts itself into the blurry, dark, smeary areas. How do the less articulated areas talk to the hyper articulated ones?
DK: Ambiguity in all its forms lies directly at the heart of my work, and it was not until seeing the current Al Held show of early Black and White paintings at Cheim and Read that I realized I was imprinted from him with the idea that paintings should be ambiguous, like a newly hatched duckling following the first moving body it sees. Held was the first real artist I met when I was an undergrad at Yale, and I knew nothing about painting or art, and he had just finished those paintings three years earlier.

Ambiguity is the door you leave open so that other people’s consciousnesses can come in and play with yours. Life is startlingly arbitrary though it seems to make sense. The hyper-articulated areas are there to give you the illusion you are seeing something particular, but in reality, the blurry dark smeary areas are just as particularized. I hope they work together to give you a reason for coming back so the time I spent painting them won’t have been for naught, though of course it is unrealistic to expect that of any activity. But actually the desire for significance determines a lot of what I do, possibly to its detriment. I can’t help it, I was just drawn that way.

  Dennis Kardon, Making Her Sob, oil on canvas.

KS: Speaking of how you are drawn, I’m looking into your horoscope for the month, Sagittarius, and I see that the rational and the emotional are having a fight inside your mind’s eye. Decisions must be made but you are conflicted as to how to resolve them. I think you must let the emotions reign free and if this involves secret crying and eating more fried foods with your fingers Kitty wants you to know it’s ok. Also, use more blue. Hope this helps in your efforts towards significance. Meanwhile can you explain how your work has evolved recently? Your newer paintings focuses less on disturbing figurative narratives and more on slightly surreal still lifes, where the objects are strange and anthropomorphized.
DK: Well, re my Sagittarian nature, you may call it fighting, but I prefer to think about it in the way I described Carroll Dunham’s work in my review a few years ago: “Everywhere, irrationality and control are trying to screw the daylights out of each other.” But yeah, every time I write something, it takes me a while to slip back into the dark waters of the chaos. I guess because I may be afraid of what I’ll end up having to justify this time. But I only cry in public, and only at the most sentimental, sappy movies, especially but not limited to ones that have some father/daughter relationship. As for blue, and fried foods, I use/eat them all the time.

My work’s evolution? I’ve been doing the still lifes since about 2000 after seeing the Chardin show at the Met, and the Manet still life show at the Baltimore museum in rapid succession. As you have noticed the still lifes, as in Manet, are about the same feelings made less disturbing because there aren’t people in them. The newer ones do have the addition of the crumply foil, which I was infatuated with for several paintings. I like to think I cycle through many directions and perhaps let someone else help make the editing and curating decisions, for public presentation. I hope they are evolving. I like to try new things that involve acquiring new powers (note my intentionally not using the word “skills” here).

  Dennis Kardon, Handle With Care, oil on canvas.

KS: What is it about skill that makes us so uncomfortable? Is skill some kind of deadbeat denial of the flawed fucked up truth?
DK: It is a word that has become vastly misunderstood when applied to painting. The problem with the word is that it implies an action that has been repeated so often that it becomes unconsidered, and which in painting implies not being in the moment. A flaw in spontaneity; spontaneity being the wonder of painting, both in doing it and looking at it. The wonder of a moment of human consciousness frozen in time.

But one’s power in painting depends on building upon certain knowledges that have been accumulated through experience and from studying other paintings, in order to express nuances of feeling. Nuances of the “flawed fucked up truth” as you put it. Just fucking up doesn’t express the truth, there has to be a yearning for grace, in order to experience the ache of its absence. And this is skill of a different order. So I find the whole academic conceit of “de-skilling” to be abhorrent and a misunderstanding in what is involved in making things, and painting in particular. Which is why it has become necessary to avoid using that word, in order not to have to explain this. It makes much more sense to just use “power.”

KS: I want to say something funny about power but it�s not coming to me.
DK: Like electricity illuminating a light bulb, power only becomes visible when it encounters resistance? I guess that�s not really funny but perhaps profound. Actually I don�t think that�s the way light bulbs work anymore. But it used to be a good metaphor.

Dennis Kardon: Reflections on the Surface,” Valentine, Ridgewood, Queens, NY. Through April 3.

Related posts:
Your January Horoscope! by Crystal �Kitty� Shimski

Philosophy and art: Dennis Kardon



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