Kim Bartelt, Break Easy
In "Break Easy", the latest series of works by Kim Bartelt, a sequence of bevelled forms, hover in soft, pastel hues on smooth-coloured canvases. These seemingly rigid geometric structures are far from static but seem to tremble in their own symbolic abstraction. Partly made in response to a statement once posed by the poet, Ocean Vuong, that the most powerful and strengthening thing an artist can do, is to “bring down the shield (they’ve) been taught to put up around them”, the works in the series consider the role of the artist; and in doing so, create a visual language that resonates with intellectual introspection and discordant energy.
A sense of fragility pervades these works, a precariousness as fine and fragile as the thin, membranous paper the artist fixes onto the canvas. These translucent sheets, slightly ripped and alive with snaking lines of capillaries, are pasted on to the rougher (unprimed) side of the canvas, where the fibrous texture comes through and indents itself directly onto the angular forms. For all their apparent formal stability, their vulnerability is conveyed through the structures rising up behind them, shadowing them, as though competing to dominate the other. Like priorities jostling for primacy, they’re prone to the distortions of passing time and the alterations that come with moving forward.
In the painting, Caught up, its more defiant and determinate colours of blue and dark green contrasts sharply with the circumspection of So Long where the softness of the forms, coalesce and seem almost to dissolve into each other. In each we see the gradual alterations throughout the series, as Bartelt explores the progressive layers of thought, to produce visual expressions of the inexplicable. Like metaphoric shields, they become symbolic manifestations of the guards we put up around ourselves; channeling the vibration of life’s events to move from the personal and subjective to the broad and universal.
The structural forms put us in mind of the clunky computer hardware that frames our view of the world; the interrelated shapes reminiscent of the screens and hidden semiconductors that regiment our existence. Bartelt’s monochromatic monitors are deadpan and inscrutable, for her the building blocks of our contemporary age are an observable phenomena, made accessible through a spiritual dimension. In her sculptural work, the rigid angular blocks may at first appear robust yet they are a hollow shell, made from stiff, everyday cardboard. At a time when the influence of robotics and advanced AI technology are starting to be felt in the contemporary world – with the capacity, according to many experts, to affect our society to a greater degree than electricity and fire – Bartelt’s sculptures are nothing but fragile beasts, enfeebled and defenceless. They look as though the slightest push could topple them over. Yet they stand guard across the exhibition, a potent reminder of firmly held convictions now in flux; of beliefs once thought unquestionable suddenly outdated.
These redundant massive forms focus attention on the surrounding wall works that line up side by side, their serene tones quivering in impressive silence. Even with that delicate intensity the works in the series don’t pursue an emotional rawness but reach instead for something elemental and open. Without offering any form of resolution they instead engage a sensory dimension, articulating unknown sentiments that reveal the contradictory threads of the human condition and the emotional resilience required to be an artist.