Houston

K. Packlick

Brent Gallery

In the bright and tidy world of K. Packlick, subjectivity has been thoroughly erased—except for the artist’s curious practice of dating each work to commemorate the precise day of its completion. The things that inhabit these smallish, mixed-media collages—women, men, children, birds, flowers, and fruit—are identified reflexively; they are mere cultural furniture, embodying moralizing lessons in the esthetics of social instruction. The image material is derived mostly from popular magazines of the’50s. What appears at first to be nostalgic reference, however, finds skillful, calculated purpose in Packlick’s satirical pursuit of iconic antecedents for homogenized social behavior. The models and what they represent are widely known, of course: the cheerful utopianism of the good life, an ever-smiling, entirely domesticated present designed to ward off the naked truths of an infinitely postponed apocalypse. Packlick applies these models-cum-stereotypes in at least three directions: the formation of the feminine, the decorative reduction of nature, and the technoproduction of the future.

Let’s be just like Mom, 1988, uses kitchen-cabinet glass doors and pink calico curtains to create four windows, which frame ritualistic scenes of mother-daughter training in the arts of shopping, housekeeping, hostessing, and more shopping. The construction of the work mimics a 15th-century altarpiece, here dedicated to the hagiography of motherhood—Mom is adorned with a discreet halo resembling a sunbonnet radiating wholesomeness and order. The three framed collages in Let’s enjoy watching birds at home, 1988, are mounted on a miniaturized white picket fence backed by a green field of Astroturf. The work’s three ornithological “views” lead us away from any field of experience outside the benign charm of naturalized decor. Nature is here compartmentalized for our consumption. Let’s go to the moon, 1988, five panels set on trailer-park skirting spray-painted silver, counts down, through left-to-right-reading images, to that giant step America took for “all mankind” in 1969. The far left panel establishes the teleology: a junior astronaut suited up for the next adventure in colonization, a partially eaten apple in one hand, the rocket/phallus in the other, and a tall glass of milk sitting next to the plastic space station he will man in the promising future of his adulthood. The far right panel shows an astronaut walking on the moon: dream and realization.

Packlick’s graphic language extends from the collage images to include their formal surroundings—layered, often collaged mats, with titles, the artist’s name, and date printed on the outermost surface. The framing is frequently modified in subtle ways, sometimes supplemented with add-on structures that further articulate the image context. While this technique of content expansion lacks a thoroughness of syntactical detail and weighs a bit heavily on the core imagery, it helps to draw effective analogies. These constructions show a clear debt to Joseph Cornell, but they display an extroversion of amplified signs in contrast to his introversion of hermetic symbols. In her effort to construct an understated evocation of bourgeois appearances, Packlick may concede too much to that world’s suffocating niceness. At some point the edge of the knife may need to be held closer to the throat.

Ed Hill / Suzanne Bloom