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Poles Apart

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No, there's probably nothing wrong with your eyes. Or even if there is, it probably has nothing to do with Ted Kinkaid's digital photographs at Arthur Roger. They are naturally -- or unnaturally -- blurry. Now, blurriness has been something of a fad in photography in recent years, with artists such as Debbie Fleming Caffrey and Jack Spencer, among others, giving us darkly ethereal and eternally brooding images that resemble visual Dylan Thomas poems set in the Deep South. Ted Kinkaid is nothing like that.

If those other artists are like latter-day romantics, Kinkaid is more of a pop minimalist whose cloudscapes manage to look fake even though they started out as photos of real clouds. And that's the crux of the matter, because Kinkaid occupies a kind of no man's land somewhere between photographic documentation and painterly abstraction, a zone both intriguing and off-putting. If clouds are already fluffy, why do they have to be blurry? Kinkaid says, "It can be stated that a photograph of a thing or event, even if it is manufactured or staged, is an expression of potentiality that conveys that thing or event into some sort of animate existence."

O-kaaay. Kinkaid's images do have a ghostly aura of sorts, but they're also maddening because your eye wants to focus on something, but there is nothing in these zoned-out, blur-filtered, pop-minimal nimbuses for the eye to grab hold of. They are more like something spray painted on a custom camper van in California in 1975. Or that was how Thunderhead 519 struck me. Throw in some lightening bolts, a Harley-Davidson logo and an airbrushed rainbow and it would look perfect against metallic candy-raspberry automobile paint. Standing alone, however, it suggests a cottony gray and pastel blue question mark of sorts, a techno-digital enigma.

Others such as Grid 101, a brooding sepia honeycomb like a glass jar filled with brown M&Ms seen through fogged sunglasses, recalls Roger Brown's convoluted pattern paintings; no photographic references come to mind. And that's the whole thing -- the shapes and forms are tweaked into something too freaky for the real world, or even the increasingly virtual world of 2004. For instance, in Front 625 and Collision 223, bands of intense color radiate from an unseen sun like an airbrush illustration of laser light refracted through a quartz crystal -- as it might appear to someone with severe myopia. Kinkaid apparently sees nature as a product of culture, and time will tell if there's more here than mere novelty. I'm inclined to think there is, but we may have to wait for his next show to get a better idea of exactly where all this is headed.

Very different yet also oddly minimal are John Geldersma's Spirit Poles and carved wooden sculptures. Vaguely, elegantly aboriginal, these and related works were for decades crafted from scraps of dead trees found in his Cajun country stomping grounds near Lafayette. The colors, while occasionally vivid, seemed somehow more muted before his move to New Mexico.

Although his work is essentially similar today, his colors now burn with a vivid Hispano-Iberian intensity, like the glow of embers on sandstone at night, the spilled blood of the flagellantes or perhaps the occasional stigmata.

Such tendencies are especially evident on his more rectangular works such as Mask 1, a crimson, ebony and cream concoction with striated lines running in various directions from an elongated central armature. Two tiny apertures appear in the center above the longer, vertical axis, giving this an oddly animate aura, and the overall effect evokes Pueblo Indian ritual masks. His similar, if less vividly colored, earlier works made in Louisiana seemed a tad more African in tone, somehow. But the Spirit Poles themselves, long, banded, snake-like shafts of painted and polished wood, are no less multi-ethnic in innuendo, examples of what Octavio Paz has called "the conjunction, the diffusion, the reunion of languages, spaces and times."

For Geldersma this may be another round of the same old song, but maybe practice makes perfect -- or at least persuasive -- because this is some of his strongest work in recent years, examples of an unlikely multicultural minimalism that harks to the spiritual eloquence of tribal and archaic cultures distilled into something starkly, and simply, resonant.

Some of John Geldersma's recent work, such as Mask I (pictured), is reminiscent of his recent work yet subtly stronger, with colors burning with a vivid intensity.
  • Some of John Geldersma's recent work, such as Mask I (pictured), is reminiscent of his recent work yet subtly stronger, with colors burning with a vivid intensity.

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