It's possibly one of the last few sunny Sundays this fall, but Joe Kimmel is inside, working hard in his studio. Thirteen wood panels lean up against the concrete walls of Kimmel's space, many of them still in progress.
"I definitely have to look at it as coming to the office," says Kimmel, "whether it's to make progress or just check in." It is obvious through our conversation that while it may be artwork, it is what Kimmel lives and breathes.
Joe Kimmel, who moved here from Boise, has shown his work in several Bend venues such as The Sparrow Bakery, Blue, Tree Fort, PoetHouse Art, and at Redmond's Evergreen Studio where his new series, "gods of War," will open November 8. Kimmel realizes that titling the series as such is a risky move, and not to be taken literally. "This work is about war in the sense that it is about conflict...the daily struggle against what people want you to do, and what you want to do." The conflict is a subtle one, exemplified by the contrast between the organic gestural lines of the figures and the sharp, angular geometry of knives, arrows, and lightening bolts. In one panel, an octopus's arms pull at an embracing couple; in another, a figure reaches upward toward a falling goddess and an astronaut in the midst of a fractured sky. The protagonists in the work may be gods and goddesses, attractive and powerful; but they are also everyman, wearing heavy rimmed glasses, jeans and tee shirts.
Kimmel's work is full of symbols-characters from myth that he employs first and interviews later. Humans have animal qualities, octopus arms and feather headdresses. In a piece titled "Valkryie," a seated Goddess comforting a mere mortal in her lap has antlers and a mane of fox tales. Horses and tigers look over the shoulders of humans, acting as totems, expressing defensive stances that again highlight the idea of conflict, while the humans stand in repose, often calm and empty eyed. Kimmel balances the ominous action with a sense of nostalgia that keeps the work from being too heavy. Spacemen, T-Rex, and King Kong are drawn with an active, gestural line that borders on playful and references the art of classic comic books. The subject matter isn't the only thing nostalgic about Joe's work-brush strokes of muted browns, yellows, pinks, and oranges are intriguingly retro.
"I hated when my teachers made me use color crayons," Joe Kimmel says emphatically, after I ask him about the influences on his palette, "it's a struggle." It's kind of odd to hear a painter talk about his dislike of color, especially because it isn't evident in his work. The colors pair seamlessly with the imagery to evoke worlds that exist in the realm between memory, dream, and a sci-fi cult film.
Kimmel's influences are varied, and like many post-modern artists, he looks outside art history for resources. During our conversation, Kimmel references Ayn Rand's Fountainhead (where the gods of war idea initially began), Japanese mythology, Tom Waits, Ukranian Fairytales, and the German expressionist silent film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. His eyes light up as he shows me an old Caligari comic book. He is also admittedly influenced by the Central Oregon art and music scene, one that Joe thinks rivals a big city. The opening at Evergreen will highlight the energy of that scene, with performances by musicians Barry Control, At the Harvest, Georgians, as well as Portland based Related Material. Besides enjoying live music and a fabulous spread (Evergreen typically pulls out the stops) at the opening, art goers could get lucky. Joe will also be raffling off the title piece of the series in which a bearded, bespeckled falconer stands amongst blood red letters, commanding and questioning, with his bird ready to fly.
Joe Kimmel: "gods of War"
Opens Saturday, November 8. Evergreen Studio. 435 SW Evergreen Ave, Redmond.