Text: Alec Coiro
All Images Courtesy of the Gallery
Leelee Kimmel takes a three-prong approach to the three dimensions in her first show at The Journal Gallery, which I believe is also her first show anywhere. This is pretty remarkable considering how accomplished the show is not just in terms of technique and its aura confidence, but also how fully formed her perspective and intentions are.
Let’s start with the paintings. First of all they’re enormous. The size is a formal decision that effectively immerses you into the painting. The paintings are fields of either solid black or solid white. The effect is that you enter this field and confront the discrete figures she has created within. The figures reminded me a lot of one of my favorite painters, Gordon Hull. Kimmel’s figures skew more consistently abstract, but they both have the same mannered scribble quality.
It’s worth noting that Kimmel creates these paintings by laying her enormous canvases out on the floor in her Manhattan studio, and somehow hovers over them as she paints. One can imagine her getting lost in each individual figure, a meditative odyssey that translates surprisingly well to the viewer’s state of mind. In order to work on canvases of such size, I think she basically has to just step on them. What the images of the paintings we’ve reproduced here can’t quite communicate are the traces of this process that you notice when you see the paintings in person. There are what appear to be footprints as she navigated over the canvas, and in one adorable instance, I think on La Cucaracha, you can see where a mouse had scampered through the went paint.
Smaller than these paintings are her sculptures, which appear to be 3D prints that she has manipulated and painted. Sculpture is almost prefigured in her painting’s brushstrokes, which are so thick they seem to strain to be on their own plane. In fully sculptural medium, however, we see a version of the figures from the paintings, but with dimensionality, and without the field of color.
Normally, an artist would leave it at that: paintings and sculptures nicely unified around a consistent theme. But Kimmel has also created a virtual reality facet to the show that can be experienced through an Oculus Rift connected to an Alienware laptop — a nice bit of pushback against artwold macbookery, unintentional, perhaps, but still a charming little punk moment.
Once you “don the rift” and enter 3D space, the figures have both the dimensionality of the sculpture and the color field of the painting. The immersive element of the work is taken to a whole other level. While your in that virtual zone, your mind thinks back on how surprised you were just a few minutes ago to hear there was a VR portion of the show, but how obvious it now is that there be one. Kimmel strikes me as an artist for whom the practice comes naturally, but also as an artist for whom all the other parts of creating contemporary art, like trying to innovate, trying to incorporate new media, trying to put the whole show together, the parts that can sometimes seem so tortured, also come naturally to her.
It is my understanding that Kimmel never planned to have this work shown in a gallery in the first place, and yet her work was completely ready to be shown; each piece she’d been working on was already part of the same project, and not one of them was made before 2016. Like all the best world builders, the world of this show has its own logic that she fully created within her own private space before it was unleashed.