The Canyon Walls Series
When she was a child, Kini Collins had a recurring dream. Night after night, she would lean forward, almost stretching her body, and just? fall. Plummeting through space, she would watch as the ground rushed up towards her, a crazy patchwork of folded stone. Finally, rather than crash into the surface of the rock, she would plunge into it, the earth wrapping itself around her with an intensity of feeling that would jolt her awake.
Many years later, Collins found the stone she had dreamt about so many times, and the shock of recognition was every bit as intense. The stone was Vishnu Schist, some of the world?s most ancient at 2 billion years old, and Collins was on a boat trip down the Colorado River, passing through the Grand Canyon. The 14-day trip was revelatory, so she repeated it the following year, and it forms the subject of her most recent work.
As purely expressive as her work is, Kini Collins wasn?t always a visual artist. She lived in Japan for many years and was a serious student of martial arts. Her study of Japanese calligraphy dates to this time, but was less an art practice than a cultural one. Eventually, a back injury sidelined her career, and she began writing fiction. Painting and drawing started out as exercises to further her writing, but the physicality of making art appealed to her and eventually it became her focus. Collins? circuitous route to art making, not having come up through the grind of art school, results in work that is refreshingly vital. Virtually all of her methods are self-discovered, and combine the fearlessness of the autodidact with rigorous discipline. It?s tempting to ascribe her sensibility to pop culture notions of Eastern philosophy (the influence of her years in Asia is clearly visible), but it is more genuinely rooted in a lifetime as an explorer ? of places, ideas, books and images.
Floating down the Colorado River, caught between the blazing sun and the ice-cold water, peering between the brim of your hat and the bulge of a life-vest, the towering canyon walls pass by like a procession, a riot of colors, textures and shapes with names like epic characters from some invented mythology: Zoroaster Granite, Bright Angel Shale, Redwall Limestone, Vishnu, Brahma and Rama Schists. Each comes from a different era, is formed by a distinct process, and carries unique metaphoric potential.
With her Canyon Walls series, Kini Collins has attempted to capture specific sections of the canyon as she experienced them, with roughly formed, irregularly shaped paper works. The scale of the place, needless to say, is beyond translation, but what truly fascinated her was the physicality of it all, rooted in geologic processes which were directly analogous to longstanding elements of her studio practice: pigment, water, pressure, and fire. The ?red? of Redwall Limestone is literally painted on by iron oxide dripping from above over millions of years of rain and floods. Vishnu Schist is formed of a violent folding and interweaving of truly ancient sediment with newer volcanic stone.
In similar fashion, Collins systematically works her way through a process that is both deliberate and designed for unpredictability. First tissue paper is vigorously knotted and bunched across a flat surface, then pigments in a wide range of colors are sprayed and worked in. Next, a layer of wax paper and a sturdy wooden board are placed atop and pressure is applied ? often simply by walking back and forth across it. After it?s dried, the piece is painted with wax, which protects the paper and deepens the color. It also acts as a retardant for the final stage, when she brushes the entire surface with flame, further seasoning the color and allowing for sporadic burning and other effects.
The physicality of the experience ? knotting, pounding, burning and more - is just as integral to the meaning as it is necessary to produce the look of the piece. It?s also closely related to scale. Rather than attempt to mimic the grandeur of the canyon walls, she wrestles them into a scale that relates to the human form. Just as the stone in her childhood dreams enveloped her like a blanket, the Canyon Walls resemble animal hides as much as anything, as if peeled from the surface of the stone. Portability is a recurring theme for her, and these are similarly designed to be handled by an individual. In dozens of critiques together I?ve often had the sense that the ?reveal? - pulling a drawing from a sack or folder of some kind and unfolding it for everyone to see ? is part of the experience, a physical, performative act in the same way that the making of the work is.
Two auxiliary bodies of work deserve mention as well. The protective wax paper placed between the tissue and board to make the Canyon Walls pieces reflect the pigment from below and function as transfer prints. Heavily edited (less than a dozen were selected out of hundreds of pieces of wax paper), they stand as ghosts of the larger pieces, with colors shifted and forms abstracted, and possess the elegance of Asian landscape paintings. A series of smaller works, which she calls ?glimpses,? are similarly freed of any specific location, and less seismic even as they borrow many of the same methods. Alongside the principal Canyon Walls pieces, which are more direct and deliberate, they offer a more nuanced, idiosyncratic experience of the place, filtered through memory and accident.
Ultimately, the blurring of boundaries between memory and direct experience, and between the observed world, the held object, and the artist?s own body is what Collins is attempting to convey. Like the solitary Romantic figure in a Caspar David Friedrich painting, she stands in awe of the world before her, and seeks only to lose herself in it.
Creative Alliance at The Patterson