Kathleen Kucka's Ultrastructures


Brenda Taylor Gallery
Kathleen Kucka - Ultra Structures September 8 - October 22, 2011

Kathleen Kucka, Ultra Structures, 2011
Bee's wax and caustic paint on hubcaps, l.e.d. lights, 92 x 92 in.
Courtesy of Brenda Taylor Gallery, NY

Kathleen Kucka's recent body of work combines two seemingly opposed entities: biomorphic forms and manmade structures. She moves freely between these poles, which when studied in relation, enhance each other's unique characteristics. Through this parallel pursuit, Kucka establishes an imaginative zone, a cross section formed by two overlapping orbits. In this unusual space, she formulates her vocabulary. She continues to derive inspiration from nature, while focusing her attention on geometry. This approach reflects a keen interest in 20th Century and contemporary abstraction. In fact, her new body of work can be understood as a contemplation of this genre's facets, its traditional variations, values and historical chapters.

As a group, Kucka's two- and three-dimensional works share one common duality: they allude to both micro- and macrocosms. Associations range from cell structures to cosmic star constellations, from clearly defined sections to seemingly infinite spheres. Meanwhile, they embrace a sense of fluctuation. When studying these compositions, it is challenging to decide whether our gaze is narrowing in on a concrete detail, or if we are observing something from afar. It is Kucka's strength that she leaves us guessing, wondering if we are witnessing a scene documented through a microscope or captured from an aerial view. Her work though suggests that to find an answer is not a necessity. In Kucka's realm, we find ourselves reminded of the interrelations between all things, be they of a natural or manmade origin.

It is in her new sculptural installations, Ultrastructures, that Kucka most radically fuses organic with geometric elements. In a nod to Minimalism, these works involve industrial materials that are primarily altered and transformed by means of color and texture. The Ultrastructures consist of a grid of hubcaps. The latter have been stripped off their functional references by means of beeswax and thick white layers of encaustic paint. Lush and irregular, these layers have covered any previous metallic sheen or the notion of perfect symmetry. In a manner that brings Arte Povera ideals to mind, each tondo is now defined by tonal simplicity and elegance of form. The overall structure is clear in that one can count and view each element separately. However, a sense of mystery lingers. Installed frontally on the wall, the former automobile accessories transform into objects that bring organic growth to mind, such as tree fungi or blown up cells. Meanwhile, Kucka does not rigorously abandon all industrial influences. Each disc is lit from behind, establishing an artificial halo when seen in the dark. This stark contrast between paint and light, crisp form and blurred line, mirrors the tension between artificial and natural elements.

Kucka's drawings continue the exploration of the grid in unpredictable fashion. In fact, they internalize it. These works are defined by a large number of square Plexiglas compartments, each of which holds a miniature watercolor drawing. The gestural freedom inherent in the small works on paper is counterbalanced with the overall geometric organization of the plastic cells. As a result, the eye constantly travels between single elements and the overall composition -finding clarity in the former and a staggering amount of information in the latter. An automatic lens comes to mind, which constantly zooms in and out, shifting its focus from microscopic to macroscopic views. In this context, Kucka's drawings share similarities with woven tapestries, in which each thread defines two aspects of the whole: color and texture. They also reference digital technology. Compartments can be thought of as pixels, which add up to a more complex picture. Though defined in size, the drawings can easily be thought of as infinitely growing constructs.

Kucka's new abstract paintings continue her ongoing investigation of gestural expression by means of a process that allows for chance. Each work is set up as a controlled experiment. Canvases are laid on the ground and covered with a fluid acrylic medium, onto which drops of color are then added. While the initial reaction of the latter, either expansion or contraction, is determined by the materials' characteristics, it is the artist's editorial hand and experience that steer the overall composition. In that sense, each painting reflects a balance between chance and control. Through this technique, Kucka is able to present forms as being both concrete and in a constant state of transformation. While rich in dynamic movement, the compositions nevertheless appear restrained due to plane backgrounds and much breathing room. From the seemingly emptied out grounds, color emerges fluently – either in concentrated bursts, dense clusters, or calm translucent layers. In fact, it is the faceted color accents that guide the viewer's eye. Meanwhile, the emergence of biomorphic forms, supported by their capillary substructures, further strengthens the illusion of constant change. Though the paintings reflect the same clarity and graphic rhythm found in Kucka's Ultrastructures and drawings, they eschew geometry. In Kucka's world, everything is in flux and as she reminds us that definitions are not permanent, we are entering the transient state her paintings describe.