Study in Contrast

Adkins’ ‘New Work’ at Lied Gallery abstracts human condition on personal level


Kenneth Adkins’ body of work has been building over time. The layering of a variety of mediums ranging from paint to cloth translates an experience of the human experience that builds upon itself.

In New Work at the Creighton Lied Art Gallery, which continues through March 27, Adkins’ works deliver an abstracted take on the human condition that uses texture, depth and material to describe a multi-dimensional perspective on humanity.

As Adkins’ different series progress through the show, they each add either a new element or more heavily feature an element prominent in the series. To lead off, the canvases of the “Black Lodge” paintings become increasingly more treated and the black that drips down the surface become wider and opaque. The “White Lodge” series reads almost as an abstract landscape, a deep blue bluff taken over more and more by a thick white curtain.

The more that is layered in these works, the more that becomes obscured. Using objects and everyday materials, Adkins is compounding a sense of ambiguity. “Zen Arcade”, “Gates of Hell” and “The Birds” incorporate slivers of advertisement paper into thick, marbled layers of glue and paint.

Red flecks pop from underneath the rocky surface nearly being recognizable as a soup can or a carpet cleaner. Ultimately the literal identifications are unimportant as our identities are reflected by general patterns. The piece become longer, more visible, in the series as if we are given the ability to see more of ourselves represented.

Conversely, the obscuring of faces in his “Obituary Painting” series fully and deliberately removes an identity. Each displays a grid of photos from obituaries all marked out completely by pen ink.

Increasing in number and gridded for methodical display, the surfaces are layered so thick with glue and tissue paper that by the time we get to “Obituary Painting #11”, the gluey surface begins to separate from the surface and the sheet becomes tempting to peel off.

In the same way that young children enjoy drying school glue on their fingers and peeling it off, the sensation to uncover what is underneath the substance and see the impression of the surface the glue took lends itself well to this series. Uncovering the identities of the individuals in the work becomes a tempting experiment and a sensational discovery.

Rounding out the work is “The Land of Rape and Honey”. Displayed in the grandeur of an altar painting with the appearance of a worn ceramic tile floor, the piece presents a grid of baseball cards all covered with layers resembling grime that’s accumulated over centuries.

Its size and wooden structure add a heaviness to the piece. A conflict arises between the symbolism and nostalgia of the baseball card—a throwback to quaintness, safety, wholesomeness—with the reality of the failings that have always lie beneath the surface.

Again, the identities on the cards are obscured because the buildup of pain and trauma are the result of systems and perceptions not solely by the individuals involved.

Adkins has demonstrated the abstracted concepts that pattern our experience with New Work and furthered his diversity of approach help us see a larger picture. The elements that flood our observations and circumstances do not stand alone as individual incidents, they compound and each new experience is developed by the experiences that came before.

This layering creates our whole self and, on the canvas, this literal layering provokes a sense of depth that mirrors those feelings and as each layer is introduced an element is changed or obscured.

New Work is on view at the Lied Art Gallery in the Creighton University Lied Education Center for the Arts, 24th and Cass Streets, through March 27. For more information visit kadkins.com or creighton.edu.


Category: Art

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