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Kirk Pedersen:
Images of Transience and Change

By Collette Chattopadhyay
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The darkness emerged suddenly, transforming life's usual cadence. In its wake, time variously raged, stood still, or stumbled on. Working under the shadow of loss, at a studio on Adams Street near the bleak intersection of La Cienega and the 10 Freeway in Los Angeles, Kirk Pedersen's neo-expressionistic paintings, including Black Cross (see page 39), Victoria's Secret, (see page 38), S7 (see page 37) and Shadow emerged. Nearly obliterating allusions to light, these powerful works, created in 1995, define the psychological brutality of unexpected change and the screaming silence of loss. Then, in the aftermath of these dark works, the artist picked up a camera and began shooting photographs again.

He received his first camera as a boy growing up in Nebraska, where he initially photographed old buildings and barns. Even then, capturing the worn surfaces of rustic, manmade structures, he dreamed of traveling the world. As a young man, he set off for California, studying painting in San Francisco and later completing his Masters of Fine Arts degree at Claremont Graduate University. During these years, he created paintings often based on photographs that studied the details of city streets, crosswalks and walls. Painting places as diverse as Desert Ruins #Two (see page 20), Forty-Second Street and later "E" Street he accentuated the crumbling, deteriorating surfaces of man-made thoroughfares and habitations.

In exploring the abstracted details of built environments, Pedersen's works historically converse with the photographic interests of such mid-Twentieth century American photographers as Aaron Siskind and Harry Callahan, as well as the mid-century European artists Antoni Tapies, Alberto Burri and Lucio Fontana. Like these photographers, Pedersen explores what some might regard as the banal realities of life, while like his painting predecessors he creates images of abraded, and eroded city surfaces that quietly underscore the harshness of existence, suggesting that even amidst the ordinary and familiar appearance of things, the pathos of life quietly unfolds.

In 2004, he journeyed to Thailand and began shooting images of the famous Ao Phang-Nga National Park's rock formations. A week later, he traveled on to the famous, ancient ruins of the Khmer Empire, known as Angkor Wat, located near Siem Reap, Cambodia. While photographing the eighth wonder of the ancient world, Pedersen experienced an artistic epiphany. There, photographing the historical relics of this ancient empire, he captured photographic images that unfolded what is seemly paradoxically hidden in plain view, defining the power of Angkor Wat's historical grandeur as glimpsed through its ruined fragments. That experience preceded his first journey to China in the autumn of 2006. There, he worked as a Guest Artist, teaching watercolor for two weeks at the Luxun Academy of Fine Arts in Shenyang. Fascinated by the city, he began photographing details of its buildings, walls and pathways. In 2007, he returned again to Luxun to teach, and later traveled and photographed the cities of Dalian, Shanghai and Beijing. Seeking to explore the reality of these cities that were then being transformed into modern locales, he again focused on capturing distinctive details that evoke the specific historical moments when these cities were undergoing infrastructural changes and transformations.

Creating images by wandering the visually complex streets of cities, Pedersen today discovers a broad range of images that come to define specific places. Often selecting sights overlooked by most, that exist beyond a bend in the road, around the corner of a building, or on the face of a wall that has been left for demolition, Pedersen searches for and photographs the transience of life as manifest in structures often assumed to be permanent. The images that emerge from this intuitive, artistic process are variously inquisitive, dynamic or lyrical. They always capture ephemeral moments, sometimes filled with a quirky beauty or tranquility, that in most instances define the now lost realities of neighborhoods that have since been demolished to make room for modernized, new buildings and structures. Visually scanning, selecting, and photographing the realities of city life, Pedersen selects from infinite possibilities, interpreting the city in artistic terms.

Expanding and abstracting his early painterly interests in the details of city streets, Pedersen has initiated a series of images that push abstraction towards the terrain known as non-objective art. In 1993, he created a work entitled Z and E (see page 58), which treaded between making concrete allusions to the physical world, and leaving such references behind to intimate the reality of the metaphysical realm. The artist's interests in these terrains appear as well in Sukhumvit YON (see page 60) of 2006, which studies and accentuates time as a marker of change. Evoking city billboards, both works present surfaces laden with worn, torn announcements and advertisements. Highlighting the disjunctions in communication that are perpetuated over time as announcements and events continue to shift and evolve, replacing one reality with another, these images point to the irony and ambiguity of the passage of time. Other images exploring these terrains include Shenyang Bills (see page 29), Dark Funk Spot (see page 2) and Tokyo Signage (see below), which visually study the effacement of verbal communication, regarded by many as the most articulate form of human interaction. Yet, in presenting torn and partially obliterated snippets of words, these works visually underscore the power of images to convey the essence of change without ever restoring to constructing verbal sentences.

Other works pull back from the detailed study of such public billboards, granting a glimpse of passersby who pause to read announcements or jot down contact information. In the photograph entitled Bus Stop, a woman stands in front of a large city billboard filled with contemporary ad postings. The photograph captures her checking her purse for a pen or pencil to write down, perhaps, a phone number or address from one of the displayed advertisements. While the focal point in this work resides predominately on the action of this woman, she is part of a group of three figures clustered to the left that is balanced by a sole male figure whom stands at the extreme right edge of the composition. This mostly mauve-pink image set against a cement grey sidewalk and street, creates a calm, soothing composition in which the happenstance of locating something needed or desired comes from an announcement glimpsed on a public wall.

Compositional balance is always critical in Pedersen's images. Three photographs taken by the artist in 2007, including Bike Repair Shop, Shenyang Series #8, and Shenyang Series #12 articulate a brokered balance formally defined by an unseen, yet implicit vertical line within each image. Bike Repair Shop creates a balance of opposites between the left and right halves of the image that visually meet along a quietly defined central axis. The illusion of a line is established by several, specific elements in the photograph, including the end of the bench where three men sit, and the raised elbow of a man who reclines near the image's bottom edge. Balancing linear forms on the left with circular forms on the right, the composition frames a transitory moment in time-space.

Shenyang Series #8 is more subtle, although, it too is balanced by an invisibly apparent central axis that runs to the left of the large pole glimpsed in the blue colored window seen in the upper half of the image. The fan units, affixed to the face of this predominately grey building, unexpectedly create block-shaped forms that whimsically define a linear sweep of shapes, which intriguingly echo nature's patterns. Shenyang Series#12, by contrast, balances a grey building on the left with a red building to the right. These color areas are granted equal presence within the image, creating symmetry while contrasting the color of the shops' facades, the position of their respective doorways, and the movement of a young woman walking between the two structures.

By contrast, Tsukiji Fish Market Cans (see next page) presents a glittering array of metal containers, functioning artistically as a witty repartee to American Minimalism, particularly the works of Carl Andre and Sol LeWitt. The interest in such all-over compositions, that do not initially focus the viewer's attention on any one given point, but encourage engagement with the image field as a whole, also informs Pedersen's photo, Shenyang Series #9. Here a gold and grey checkerboard wall separates a pedestrian walkway from a large white building that appears behind the wall. At the bottom of these expansive structural surfaces, a small, young woman carrying a pink purse glances towards the viewer, her diminutive size defining the height of the structures that tower above her.

From a tiled wall whose age is writ along its crumbling edges, to a group of waiters who catch a moment's rest outside the back door of a small restaurant in Dalian, Pedersen takes viewers on a journey that transforms the ordinary into the exceptional. Ancient wisdom says one cannot step into the same river twice, intimating that reality is constantly in flux. Creating paintings and photographs from wanderings made in search of heightened moments of perception, Pedersen transforms ordinary life into astonishing spectacles. Detailing close-ups of walls, building facades, and other city sights, these images not only grant glimpses of human habitations, but they create a wonderment of the ordinary, while defining the changing face of Asia in the opening decade of the Twenty-first century.

Copyright, Collette Chattopadhyay, Irvine, June 2008 Back to essays
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