Kevin Paulsen and His American Vernacular

Kevin Paulsen is in the midst of an artist revival that involves a new gallery, a trail blazing art’s advocacy festival and a new body of work. Kevin’s new work will be presented in the store front windows of Bergdorf Goodman on Wednesday, May 11, 2011 along with cocktails served on the 7th floor in the Skylight Room from 6:30—8:00pm.

Kevin’s vision has been formalized as the Oo Gallery in Kingston, NY specializing in double “oo” themes featuring emerging artists from around the world. Mr. Paulsen is also the intuitive spirit behind the O+ (Positive) Festival in Kingston that combines the inspirational forces of music and art to bring citizen sponsored healthcare to creative’s who need it most. The next O+ takes place in October, seventh through the ninth. Kevin is passionate and embodies the spirit of a curious artist who constantly flows the energy of life’s experience directly into his painted compositions.

Amongst all of the goings on, Kevin has taken time out to share his thoughts and upcoming show at the world renown Bergdorf Goodman in New York, 5th Avenue at 58th Street. (Pictured above-
Flying Ship drawing, 24" x 34" (collection of Tyler Taylor). Pigment on plaster).

mM : Your paintings possess a lyrical quality that celebrates painterly traditions of folk art; iconic reinterpretations of the Latin American retablo; and the dynamics of man’s relationship between industrialism and naturalism. (These are all solid characteristics by the way). . . Please describe how you approach your work and how the stories unfold.

KP : I like things that are timeless. Even if they’re social, or political, they can still be timeless. Most of my influences go back to American vernacular painting, the decorative arts ... I try to bring, through the use of unorthodox materials, scale changes, and the subject matter, a contemporary aspect to them. (Pictured above: The Palace of the Pachyderm 5' x 7'. Pigment on plaster).

And the narratives reveal themselves in the making. I have a very formulaic approach to my work, and within that, the story develops. The paintings are conceptual to me; I think of them as abstraction, and then the stories just reveal themselves to me by virtue of employing naturalistic elements—trees, landscapes and figures... But there’s no definitive, set story until the painting’s underway.

You’re right to see the industrialism / naturalism dichotomy, which was a very predominant characteristic of 19th century painters, both Hudson River School and otherwise—engravings from a book called Picturesque America, which depicted the expansion of industry, in the landscape. It was part of manifest destiny, growth and technology, and it was celebrated, but now, that celebration has kind of reached a climax. And even though I admire the artworks—I admire man's conquering of nature as an art form—the reason I choose that idiom to work from is that I think we’ve come full circle. We're now in a position with industry where it's reaching an endpoint. And from much of what we’ve championed as progress, we're now seeing negative results—on the environment, the economy, society. (Pictured above: Eyes of Spring (Flood and Thaw series) 5' x 7'. Pigment on plaster).

mM : Please describe the current direction of your work and the influence of modern events captured within the visual narrative.

KP : I tried to keep politics out of my art until a couple years ago, but in today's climate, I find it almost impossible not to comment on, at least, the social politics. In some way, it shows up on it's own. For example, the painting Re-Seeding (Flood and Thaw series) begun as a painting about the advent of spring, the seeds floating through the air, and the thaw from the snow in the mountains. But as I was working on it, the tsunami hit Japan, which spawned a slightly different idea. I thought about the receding water, and that contributed to the double entendre in the name. They can either be frolicking or drowning depending on the viewer's take, but it's that sort of push/pull—humans being oblivious to the destruction that's right at our door at any moment. It's a comment on the celebration of spring and our inability to see our fragile place in the world. And then it dawned on me that what I thought were mountains in the background was another wave cresting in the distance, ready to hit the shore.
(Pictured above: The Re-Seeding (Flood and Thaw series) 5' x 7'. Pigment on plaster).

mM : The multi-leveled boat image seems to evoke reference to Pieter Bruegel the Elder and his Tower of Babylon master piece. Where did you find your inspiration? What is the title, size and medium of this painting? Please describe.

KP : “Babel Launch,” pigment and plaster atop velour mounted on board, 3'x4'. As the title reveals, it is a reference to Babel, and Bruegel's painting, as well as to Babylon and the narrative of a precarious utopia. A boat that appears to be in calm waters, approaching a rocky coast—the party, the lights, the massive, top-heavy, overcrowded yacht, the abundance of banners touting ourselves as important, about to reach the rocky shore. And what will happen in the narrative? They'll eventually wreck and sink, or they'll figure out how to stay afloat. I'm not really trying to say one or the other.
(Pictured above left, detail and right: Babel Launch 3' x 4'. Pigment on plaster).

mM : What’s next for Kevin Paulsen? Please share your Oo gallery information, the O+ festival this summer and your upcoming NY exhibition.

KP : On the 11th of May, 6:30 to 8pm is my opening at Bergdorf Goodman — my work will be displayed in the windows along 5th Avenue along with the 7th Floor Skylight Room. And Mark as you already know, I've been invited by you to show in your summer exhibit, “Lucid Dreams,” during Comic Con in San Diego along with my girlfriend Bonnie M. Smith. In the fall Kingston, NY has the O+ arts festival coming up. For Oo gallery our next show opens in June—BOoK—in conjunction with O+'s book launch. That'll be a group show of some excellent artists — some will respond literally with books — including Cathie Bleck, Josh McPhee, Mark Murphy(!), as well as some of the artists who have an ongoing relationship with the gallery—Mike Egan, Jeremy Pruitt, Nicolas Forker, Fred Stonehouse and Joe Concra. (Pictured above: Harvesting Rubies III. 4' x4' in shadow frame. Pigment on plaster).

Thank you Kevin Paulsen and enjoy continued success. Super kind thanks for sharing and good luck in NY. (Article Two, Lucid Dreams Exhibit 7/08/11)


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