Monday, January 25, 2010

J.T. Kirkland @ Vermont Studio Center

One of my favorite blogs to follow is J.T. Kirkland's Thinking About My Art because he is a fellow traveler in the quest to find an aesthetic path that celebrates wood as art. So I was happy to hear he was going to be doing a one month residency at the Vermont Studio Center because it would give me a chance to meet him and see his work in person.

He recently started a new series that caused quite a bit of debate on his blog because of the difficulty in experiencing the effect of his technique through images. He has been playing with the subtle reflective qualities of finishes (gloss, semi-gloss, matte) and using it to "paint" designs on top of veneers he has glued to plywood. In the first series of images he posted, and many of the later ones as well, it was essentially impossible to see any effect from the finishes in the pictures. So with this visit, I would get to see for myself.

I can say that J.T. has been busy exploring his new series and starting some other ones as well. He has generated a lot of work in a short amount of time and it is interesting to see how it has progressed. With this veneer/finish painting series, you really do have to be in front of them to understand them. From some angles, often straight on, you don't see the effect of the finish, then when you move, it will suddenly appear. It is actually an interesting effect that surprises the viewer, taking a piece that is perhaps initially dismissed and causing both a visual and intellectual awakening.

The best example of this is the piece I have the worst picture of, his yellowheart/purpleheart piece with square on the far left of the wall below (most of these are 12" x 12"). I think the simplicity of the yellow and purple veneers work well with the subtlety of the square.

I needed to take the picture from this angle to show the effect of the finish, straight on it is unimpressive. You can also see how much the rosewood piece on the right changes between the two angles. Above, it just looks like veneer on wood, below ghost-like perpendicular lines appear.
I think this piece on the left is also very effective (yellowheart and padauk) With some of the pieces I think he left some of the lines unfinished, with just the raw wood and this might be one of them.

As you can see from the angles of the images, I struggled to find a position where I could capture the effect of the finish, often times that angle wasn't the best for showing the overall composition. The piece below, second from the left (purpleheart and black ash), was interesting in that from some angles you would just see vertical lines but from this angle you would suddenly see a checker board design. The piece on the left has diagonal lines going all the way through but you can only see it on the lighter stripes from this angle.
J.T. has also been playing with real paints during his residency. With these below, his shapes are more organic, reflective of the wood grain, and designed to highlight the grain patterns that he finds most interesting.
With these two below, the wood is used more as a canvas than as a part of the design. With the one on the left below, however, the colors and shapes of the paint are subtle complements to the grain.These paintings also integrate different types of finishes that add ghost lines to them, visible only from certain angles. I'm not sure that the technique is as effective with the paintings, however. The colors are so dominant and the finishes so subtle, that I don't find that it adds significantly to the work.

It was great seeing what J.T. is up to and talking to him about the work. I think the residency was a great opportunity for him to explore different directions of a new series. It is especially interesting to see the surprising directions that new work takes. I like where it is going and believe that the strongest of his pieces are the ones that really focus on subtlety. It is too easy to do too much and with this work, being caught by surprise is what sets it apart.


  1. Rob, glad I passed through here. Enjoyed this post on the wood paintings of J T Kirkland. Thanks.

  2. I'm glad that you were able to see Kirkland's work in person. Like you, I was amazed by the perceptual shift that occured when I physically moved from one angle of view to another. Subtlety and nuance rule in this work.