Kim Kei at Alter Space

Multidisciplinary artist Kim Kei works with cast-off materials as she explores notions of form, gesture, and movement potential. Now on view at Alter Space, her first solo exhibition – Right Up Against the Unsaid – is comprised of three bodies of work that are aesthetically bound by her appreciation for unwanted items and their value beyond the purposes for which they were originally made. The results are energetic, color-dense compositions that appear constrained only by their two-dimensional grounds.

Kei’s method is a laborious one. She scavenges discarded materials including fabric remnants, shells, and bits of plastic that are then wrapped or bound together with layers of reused dried paint. As these objects, which Kei describes as “imperfect and fragile,” come together and through accretion create new forms, she photographs, paints, and makes monotype prints from these evolving sculptures. Kei moves fluidly between various media, often working simultaneously on pieces at different stages of completion.

Kei presents newly crafted sculptures against a ground that ranges from inky black to a dark purple-brown, which heightens the vibrant tonal range of the pieces. In this format, the small details of the discarded gems she repurposes can be seen. These compositions, such as Mimesis 11 and Mimesis 14 (2015) live as both preparatory “sketches” and as finalized pieces – the twisting detritus evoking skin, gristle, and hair in an almost gruesome way. From a different perspective, the sculpted viscera resembles distant nebulae that glow before our eyes, their light long ago expired. In each of these compositions, materials appear to thrust and jut toward the viewer, as though they move by their own steam.

The near-clinical clarity of Kei’s photographs is traded for large and generous brush strokes girded by fine detail in her paintings. Ranging in size from just over twelve inches for the smallest pieces to six feet for the largest, Kei’s sculptures as subject are rendered even more abstract. In Through Us, Through Divided Selves (2015), the composition appears to hold at the center while forces outside the frame pull on either side and test the tenuous material bonds. The piece, as all of Kei’s work does, beautifully balances chaos against control. Looser strokes render the darker outer edges of the canvas as a vignette, directing our eyes to the pearlescent center and the traces of blue and pink that suggest blood vessels just below the skin.

While all of Kei’s compositions arouse and perhaps intimidate our senses, it’s the monotype prints that bear a topographic aspect that beg to be touched. For these compositions, Kei inks dried and repurposed paint skins and runs them through the printing press. The resulting pieces juxtapose flat passages with wrinkles or tears that give the otherwise smooth surfaces a fractured, somewhat menacing appearance, not unlike torn flesh. Peering at or into the cracks, it’s no wonder that our minds may ponder what is to be found in or beyond the jagged folds rising from the print surface.

Right Up Against the Unsaid succeeds not only as an exhibition of three fully realized bodies of work, but also as an intimate consideration of one artist’s method explored across media. Kei’s use of materials that were abandoned when their primary use was met represents a radical departure from what she described in an interview with Future Tongue as a “painting coma.” Now that she’s fully awake, Kei’s curiosity and accomplished execution is sure to lead her, and her audience, down a thrilling path.



Kim Kei: Right Up Against the Unsaid at Alter Space, San Francisco, CA is on view October 24 – December 5, 2015.
Images courtesy of Alter Space.

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