Candy canes eating fish bones, bloody cocktails dancing, pink cauliflower engulfing a black bird…you want to keep looking, figure out the story, solve the puzzle, but in the gaping abstract expressionist paintings of Kim Reid Kuhn, the solution is in the search.
In Sophisticated Beasts at RNG Gallery through September 2, Kuhn’s eleven mostly large, wall-dominating pieces reel you in and force the eye across each curiously grotesque and striking canvas or panel.
Kuhn is well-known around the arts community in Omaha. In just a few years she’s broken into the scene with solo and group shows that show the spectrum of her perspective: from an upscale restaurant solo show and art talk to group shows that run the gamut of play vs. art with mad performance art from her known crew And Friends. She also curated a Les Femmes Folles exhibit with artist Wanda Ewing and opened a multi-owned art space in Benson, “The Sweatshop.”
The community has been graced with being able to witness her transformation firsthand and with this show it is evidenced her career as a serious artist, despite her frequent play, is solidified.
Perhaps ironically, Kuhn is known to promote and discuss “shit shows” (as per many conversations with the artist who also dons the name “Kim Darling” and her artist statement); an event, according to the Urban Dictionary, characterized by a ridiculously inordinate amount of frenetic activity.
This could also describe Kuhn’s work on first glance as well as her artistic process. But upon further examination, Kuhn’s work is heavily studious in its defiant nature, and each work shows off her range of skill via palette, detail, story—and most especially, composition.
From the start with “Amusements,” mixed media on wood, viewers are instantly entranced into her peculiar illusions—is that a mouse sneezing a blowfish swimming toward a finger bone, pointing to an anatomically human rat? Shapes become figures become moods become directions become frustrating become beautiful.
Her palette of pastel colors and black reigns as in most of her work, pulling content together with fierce strokes and bright red scribbles intensifying the scene.
Her furious passion is perhaps most powerful in the enormous floor-to-ceiling piece, “Tally,” engulfing the east wall. Pink hands grip something unknown as fish eat the same. Blood surrounds as bones dance and mosaics weave in and out; the whole scene a digestion of sorts. The perspective is enhanced by the reflections of the mixed media piece on the glass of the doors hung from the ceiling. It’s unclear whether this was purposeful or not, as the doors are RNG’s known décor, but the result multiplies the haphazard effect of the work, truly captivating.
On the south side, small pieces hide out showing off her wavering moods. “Exposure,” the darkest in the room, shows four black profiles heading in the same direction, away from an intricate map of smaller and smaller and smaller dots, dashes and strokes. The piece seems to challenge viewers to find something, but whatever, again is impossible, and reminds of us of the struggle to find the unknown.
Happier toned pieces such as “Hard Pills” and “The Failure of Breeders” use large solid, bright hued shapes to emit the artists’ more playful side of the struggle. Still full of her wandering strokes and scribbles and mysterious forms, she pulls the viewers back to the bigger picture with the large solids of turquoise and red.
The show’s title piece, “Sophisticated Beasts” is perhaps the most different of the group. A prominent snake with teeth and eyes eats its own rattle tail, playing again with her “shit show” ideal. Her large trademark strokes, red marks and black weaving dashes and swirls with pinks, turquoise and yellows lead your eye around the wood panel, which she also leaves bare in some areas.
As in the rest, the composition is flawless; if one were to take a snapshot from just about any block of Kuhn’s work, still, the angling of imagery and strokes would balance.
“Sophisticated Beasts” is somehow, even with the cannibalistic snake, is the “prettiest,” perhaps most light piece in the show. Kim’s work is neither feminine nor masculine; there are definitely anatomical references, phallic and womb shapes abound (whether intentional or not), bright pinks used alongside blacks. Her artist statement refers to her transformation “from mark maker to mother to painter I have been transformed and I am changing again.”
She is refreshingly indefinable yet, as confirmed by this show, a significant artist making her way in the art world.
The only shortcoming of the show is in the northeast corner of the gallery. “Slip,” the sole piece from 2011, on paper, is a pleasant vertical hairy yellow rocket ship, with her celebrated intensity at work. However, the use of push-pins to hang it stole much of the work’s sophistication and soul in comparison to the rest of the properly framed and hung pieces. It playfully reminds you of the up-and-comer Kim you know, but let’s face it, Kim has arrived; no push-pins should be used alongside the killer “Amusements” and “Tally.”
And, though the gallery’s playful ceiling-brimming squirrel is a kind reminder of its locale in Council Bluffs, and the “beast” theme, it also distracts from the seriously pure albeit animalistic exhibit that it is.
Though, as pointed out in Kuhn’s artist statement, her work stems from distraction.
“My process is fueled from distraction—calls from children and punk rock records…As I sort through the trauma, there becomes beauty from the chaos.”
Kuhn will take it a step-further this October as she dons Kim Darling to show in The Shit Show, a group exhibit at The New BLK.
Sophisticated Beasts is up through September 2 at RNG Gallery adjacent to Dixie Quicks at 157 West Broadway in Council Bluffs. Dixiequicks.com.