Pushing the (h)Edge
Gallery Review from Topics in Installation Art, 2011
Some artists discover their medium over a lifetime of work, others stumble into it unknowingly, and few fall in love at first sight. Kim Dickey knew she wanted to work with ceramics after finding it in sixth grade.
As small but astonishingly skilled hands turned the lump of clay into a two-handled vase, something remarkable happened. “It was like I fell in love,” she says two decades later. Even strangers saw it. “People actually remarked that I looked different. I had a glow about me. They asked if I had been in Florida.” (Dickey)
Dickey had a quick rise into the ceramics world, being represented by the Garth Clark Gallery in New York when she was still in school. Her works sold quickly, and she was in high demand without access to the materials she needed, like a kiln. Although extremely young the pressure pushed her to succeed. Dickey had just been hired by the University of Colorado when the Rule Gallery found her exciting and innovative sculptures. They have represented her ever since.
Dickey’s work walks the fine line between nostalgic narrative and modernism. The magic is in the simplicity of her work. Although highly detailed, each sculpture always contains thousands of little parts; the overall feeling is always calm and undemanding. Her work is so subtle in some cases that it can almost be overlooked. Gardens are often the subject of her sculptures placing childhood memories of hedge gardens side by side with minimalist forms.
She likes to work with the familiar, but insists her concepts are too layered in meaning to be described as merely representational. While Dickey shies from the label of whimsical, there is clearly a sense of humor present. She likes to poke fun at what she calls the self-seriousness of minimalism. (Deam)
Dickey’s installation at the Rule Gallery in March, “All is Leaf,” embodies the hallmarks of her work.
“All is Leaf’ was designed specifically for the long, thin space of the Rule Gallery. Eleven unique sculptures are placed throughout the space, guiding the viewer through the fantasy garden Dickey has created. Eight large green sculptures pay homage to minimalist forms, including long rectangles along the floor, a large half arch, and L- shaped beams. While clearly drawing their shapes from minimalism they also mimic the architectural construction of a hedge maze. The other four sculptures are small and white, taking the shape of familiar garden characters; a lion, a running rabbit, a hawk, and a small round bush. Every sculpture is covered in thousands of identical leaves, glazed green and white respectively.
Like many of Dickey’s previous pieces, the two types of leaves used here are not meant to be botanically correct. Instead, they are take-offs on the stylized leaves, such as the quatrefoil, found throughout decorative-arts history. (MacMillan)
Dickey is frequently exploring themes of nature and culture, her medium of clay being the ultimate bridge between the two opposing ideas. Clay being made of the earth means it inherently references earth, and Dickey likes to play off this association in her own art. “It thus straddles the seeming opposition between nature and culture, analogous to the logic of the garden, (Rule).” Clay is also the cornerstone of culture, ceramics often being the first indicator of an advancing civilization. Dickey explains the importance of clay extensively to her students, stressing its place in culture and art;
[Clay] is the stuff of the earth. Once it is fired, it becomes a cultural object. We interpret cultures through their ceramic objects. It’s permanent and impermanent, and that also could be the garden we’re talking about. (from “The Rocky Mountain News” June 14 2007)
Gardens embody the realm between nature and man as well, by taking nature into the constructed confines of the man made. In some ways there is nothing natural about a garden at all with the strict organization of hedges and flower beds. Dickey takes this a step further by removing nature all together making the mimicry complete. However, because she uses clay instead of paint or other materials, some acknowledgment of nature is still present.Gardens are often a starting point for people to interpret their own personal history. For Dickey they played an important role in own her childhood. “Her earliest memories are of scooting along the ground as her mother worked her magic on lavish backyard gardens, (Deam).” The playfulness inherent in the garden imagery immediately pulls up stories from everyone’s youth:
Formal gardens exist as much in our imaginations as they do in reality. With their secret nooks, fantastical naturalism and unexpected vistas, these impeccable oases have long sparked mystery, romance and flights of fancy. They have played key roles in everything from “Alice in Wonderland” to Jane Austen novels. (Macmillan)
The white rabbit sculpture is especially evocative of Wonderland, and the lion conjures up imagery from “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.” Even the size of the sculptures enforces an idea of childhood. The Arch in the first sculpture you see as you enter and it is clearly too small for a full sized adult to pass through. One would have to crouch to go through it. The sculpture cuts the gallery in half, obscuring the back half. This gives the installation feeling of adventure, mystery, and secrecy; its almost as if some secret from the past could reveal itself amongst the sculptures.
The childish nostalgic feeling of the installation is kept from being overwhelming by the strict geometric forms. Clearly drawing from minimalism, anyone with a knowledge of art history can’t help but think of Robert Morris’s 1964 exhibition. “He displayed then-radical works derived from basic construction components, such as an L beam or plank, (Macmillan).” Dickey uses some of the exact same shapes from Morris’s installation in her own work. Unlike traditional minimalist sculpture, Dickey’s installation flaunts its adornment. Traditional minimalism revels in the simplicity of a cube or rectangle. This aesthetic is completely ignored in “All is Leaf” with every sculpture being completely covered in ceramic leaves. Without the detail of the leaves much of the charm would be lost.
This installation was a definite must see, and although simple at first glance it is layered with meaning.
Dickey’s work evokes a sense of wonder and playfulness seen in the best of post-modernism. Her sculptural gardens engage the viewer on many levels from pure, aesthetic pleasure through to the metaphysical, religious and social semiotics of gardens and food. (Garson)
Every detail of the installation is highly considered. No leaf is left unturned, reaffirming Dickey’s place in the ceramic world. Her quick rise to fame alongside this remarkable set of sculptures makes it clear the Kim Dickey deserves to be as highly regarded as she is.
Campbell, Michele. “Kim Dickey.” RULE Gallery. Web. 17 Apr. 2011. <http:// http://www.rulegallery.com/>.
Deam, Jenny. “MORE THAN A PRETTY POT – Ceramic Artist Kim Dickey a Study in Contrasts.” Welcome to Denver Woman Magazine Online! Web. 17 Apr. 2011. <http://www.denverwoman.com/1008/arts1.html>.
MacMillan, Kyle. “Art Review: Kim Dickey’s Gardens of the Mind at Rule Gallery.” Colorado Breaking News, Sports, Weather, Traffic – The Denver Post. 11 Feb. 2011. Web. 17 Apr. 2011. <http://www.denverpost.com/art/ci_17343412>.
“Meet the Speakers- Kim Dickey.” Australian Ceramics Triennale. Ed. Shannon Garson. 26 May 2009. Web. 17 Apr. 2011. <http:// australianceramicstriennale.blogspot.com/2009/05/meet-speakers-kim-dickey.html>.