Crossing the Ocean
I find my face hovering a few inches from the wall after a long journey home from London. Staring right back at me is the ambiguous and beautiful collage/found art of English artist Simon Kirk. His pieces claim the wall in numbers, all miniature wonders, each packed with layers and veils of secreted imagery and phrasing, giving me the feeling that the more I look, the more there is to see.
Mr. Kirk wasn’t always creating art in this fashion. “When I was younger I was predominantly a figurative painter, very traditional in that sense,” he tells me. “It was really when I went to art college and then onto university that my style began to evolve. I immediately felt limited by my style. My first real development came through sculpture. I wasn’t ready to leave the figure behind entirely, so I’d sculpt a body or a hand and then focus on one part of the piece and make abstract drawings and paintings from it. I still felt a connection to the figure but I was expressing myself in an entirely different way.
“I discovered the work of William Burroughs and began introducing text into my work, which then evolved into incorporating elements of collage. At this stage, I was working predominantly in books, which as I have mentioned brought its own ‘problem’ – how to translate the work onto the wall. I experimented with screen printing, which I found effective but unsatisfying. I had all the elements of my work in place, the things that would inspire me going forward, but I couldn’t find a way to communicate them. I graduated in 1999, and I’d say I was still developing my style up until about three or four years ago, when it all clicked into place perfectly. I compare it to learning an instrument in so far as you can’t express the music in your head if you don’t learn the mechanics first.”
What intrigues me about art is each artist’s different way of creating. For some it’s mechanical, others fluid and free. Mr. Kirk says for himself that it’s almost as if he is in a trance. “In my mind I’m planning what I will do with the piece in front of me several moves ahead, based on what juxtapositions of text and collage I can see in the boxes all around and how that might relate to the existing composition. It can be a memory game; this piece of collage would be perfect for this piece, now where did I see it? To keep the work fresh and spontaneous, if I hit a brick wall, I move the piece aside and come back to it at another time. I like to work across multiple pieces, and I surround myself with boxes of collage material and my cut up texts.
“Much of the text is cut from pages of novels, but rather than following the story I scan through the prose to find poems or phrases by linking words from sentences. In my variation of the cut up technique, I must be able to cut the poem I create out in one section – it functions as a collage piece in itself. I am using what is on the page but distorting the sense through my editing.”
I ask Mr. Kirk how he found himself with a show so far away in Flagstaff, Arizona. “Jill Divine saw my work on a friend’s wall on Facebook and contacted me initially about purchasing some pieces for herself,” he begins. “When she mentioned that Gallery One 13 was opening and asked if I would like to show work there, I was thrilled. The size of the works meant it was a realistic prospect and so I sent over an initial package of 35, followed by several more.”
In the future Mr. Kirk hopes to continue showing his work internationally, and has shows coming up in the New Year in his home country. His miniature corner of the world can be seen at Gallery One 13, located at 113 East Birch Avenue in Downtown Flagstaff.