Wide Open Spaces

By Jackson, Devon | Southwest Art, September 2005 | Go to article overview
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Wide Open Spaces

Jackson, Devon, Southwest Art


ALYSON KINKADE WORKS IN THE SUBLIME. In fact, she was born into it, raised up by it, and lives amid it still. The sublime-which hinges almost exclusively on awe, and therefore on size, and more specifically on an infinity of scale, on a plane where the simple and the vast extend without bounds, where "the image," as Edmund Burke put it back in 1756 in his Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, "is everywhere the same"-still very much applies to America, particularly to the America of the Plains, of the West. As long as there exist these unbroken spaces, these natural environmental landscapes, there will still be this notion of the sublime; and so landscape paintings of the West, of the Plains, will also forever verge on the abstract, on the sublime, precisely because of what Barnett Newman, that cranky abstract expressionist of the 1950s and '60s, once rather disparagingly said of the Dutch abstract painter Piet Mondrian's works, that in his white-plane and rectangle-heavy paintings Mondrian's "geometry swallowed his metaphysics."

Similarly, in the way Mondrian was affected by the infinity of the ocean and the starry skies above him in his homeland of Holland, propelling him into a more abstract version of landscape painting, the Plains and the Big Sky country of the West-of Kinkade's childhood and current homeland of northern Colorado-have compelled her to go back and forth between clearly representational landscape paintings on one hand and not-so-obviously abstract works on the other. Which is to say, her landscape paintings could just as easily be mistaken as abstract and her abstract works taken for landscapes. Or, as Newman might've quipped, her geography has swallowed her metaphysics. Or, as Burke might've written, her images appear everywhere the same. Or, even more simply, her paintings-whether abstracts or landscapes-are sublime.

BORN IN GREELEY, co, IN 1976, the middle child between an older brother and a younger sister (both now teachers), Kinkade and her family moved to nearby Loveland when she was in high school. Her father started out as an attorney before going into landscape design (and eventually opening an art gallery, where Kinkade now works), and her mother worked as an interior designer. "When I was little," Kinkade remembers, "I used to sit in my mom's office and page through wallpaper and fabric samples. That probably helped with my sense of color later on."

Always working with her hands-playing with clay, painting, drawing her sister at her dance class-Kinkade realized early on that she was more an observer than a participant. "I take things in," she says. "I don't normally like being out in front. I like being behind." She took every art class in high school-except painting, which wasn't offered. Before the start of her senior year, she spent the summer at Michigan's Interlochen Arts Camp, where they did offer classes in painting, as well as sculpture and drawing. She also had the realization that she should go to art school and not to a university. After putting together a portfolio, she decided on the Kansas City Arts Institute. Not too far away, not too close; environmentally familiar, in a big city, and with a faculty whose take-it-or-leave-it philosophy fit Kinkade perfectly.

Having been around artists since she was 15 years old (apprenticing for some of the local sculptors and monument-makers, hanging out with some of the area's painters who frequented her dad's gallery), Kinkade matriculated at KCAI having already experienced the personalities and opinions of working artists. And she realized two things before leaving home: "Coming from northern Colorado and going to New York might've been too big a juxtaposition." And, in any art school, "You've got to know yourself and figure out the correlation between who you are and your art.

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Wide Open Spaces


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