Wesley Kimler

Struve Gallery

Developing in a period that was politically and socially conservative, Abstract Expressionism was an art of wild abandonment, a Dionysiac art. Minimalism developed during a period that was radical and libertine; it, therefore, was the contrary—a disciplined, conservative, Apollonian art. Modern schools of painting always go against the grain. The problem nowadays is that we’re living in a period that has no grain, which makes it hard for artists to define themselves. Take Wesley Kimler, who has been making quite a splash here lately To hear him talk, you’d think he had his mind all made up. In a recent issue of a Midwestern art journal, he declared himself an Abstract Expressionist. He certainly sounds as polemical and contemptuous of everybody else as Clyfford Still was (like both Still and Jackson Pollock, he comes from the prairie, where all cowboy legends are born). But that tone seems somewhat out of place today, when anything goes and nothing an artist does meets with resistance. To talk so cantankerously at a time when the art world won’t give anybody an argument makes Kimler a bit of a blowhard.

His painting also makes you wonder whether it’s not just a lot of sound and fury where nothing is at stake. Kimler’s imagery straddles two styles. Though it may do so out of a desire to have global reach, the result seems more an act of equivocation that all the braggadocio, in both the words and the pictures, is intended to disguise. Kimler attempts to fuse the abstract and the figurative not with the decisiveness of a Willem de Kooning, whose work he has invoked, but in a far more tentative way. The painting itself is very aggressive. He cuts as wide a swath through the canvas as ever an Abstract Expressionist did. But de Kooning’s women are as ferocious as his own brushwork is, a worthy adversary Kimler’s recognizable subjects are washed-out, covered-over figures that often seem little more than happy coincidences, like faces seen in cloud formations, which he decided to preserve. Sometimes he can’t even decide whether to preserve them. One canvas in this show (Into the Deep, 1986) had twice been pronounced finished at two earlier stages of development. In the second of these he had added a torso of a man, which is obliterated in the final painting.

Kimler is nothing if not prolific. His previous show at this gallery was only six months prior to this one. A comparison of then with now suggests that he is moving somewhat haltingly away from the figurative image. Clearly he is a painter of enormous energy and real promise. But I can’t help feeling that right now he is trying to play off two ends against a middle. The cartoon image arises in my mind of the Road Runner trying to bridge the ever widening crack beneath him. With two shows in less than a year, Kimler has certainly been tearing around as manically as Road Runner used to. But for all his restlessness, he’s stranded at the moment. He feels unsure of the ground he’s standing on, but can’t decide which way to jump.

Colin Westerbeck