ART REVIEW: Traveling between worlds -- New York-based John King presents his introspective and mysterious drawings

In the art of John King, imagery from the concrete, known world appears only in passing. He may include fragments of objects we can readily identify, rendered with his characteristic clarity of draughtsmanship. But those objects are enveloped in the gray and brownish murk, which tends to fill the lion's share of his pictorial space, literally and contextually.

King seems expert at working between the cracks of worlds, and between the cracks of existing artistic perspectives.

We get a strong sense of a unique and searching persona in King's current exhibition at City College's Atkinson Gallery, the New York-based artist's first show in California. On view here are several larger pieces, which tend to mix the finery of graphite drawing and the palpable density of encaustic surface build-up, as well as smaller, mysterious graphite pieces and other odds and ends.

And if King's art suggests a kind of simultaneous sense of place and a sense of detachment, such a paradox is perfectly encased in a series of drawings made on hotel stationery from around the world, tucked preciously -- not casually -- into display cases. Here, King's drawings represent a source of continuity and calm, in spite of the noise and motion of travel.

Occasionally, King pulls away from his own self-constructed world and nods toward existing cultural elements. "Lush Life" is a languid drawing, spun from the classic Billy Strayhorn ballad. "Beckett," which nicely taps into the bleak and humorous spirit of Samuel Beckett's plays, melds tufts of built-up gray matter that dwarfs an empty chair and a hole in the ground. What could be more Beckett?

Although introspective and muted by their nature, King's artworks are also marked by tensions, at various levels. We're inclined to try to decode and "read" this art, but ultimately recognize that much of its charm lies in an acceptance of its unresolved puzzle pieces. It may be best to sink into the layers of mystery.

In "Kowloon Shimmer" -- encaustic, graphite and paper on wood -- a sense of abstraction and natural and cultural references are deftly blended. Cascading umbrellas, a blotchy sky and faint tracery of punching bags against black somehow come together through creative will and self-made logic.

"Revival" is another large-scale piece, thickly laden with the feeling of dripping and melting, as if from the force of emotional or spiritual heat. Into this morass of droopy encaustic are what appears to be an ambiguous "found" antique photograph and drawings of two conjoined spirals (spirals being a recurring leitmotif for King).

These two pieces are vivid examples of the seemingly contradictory vocabulary in King's art. The art seems surreal and irrational on one hand, assembling scraps and impressions without easy connective threads. Yet the success of his vision has to do with the sense of grace and poetic intersections. They make sense, somehow, on their own terms.

King's art seems of this world while also and actively yearning for some other, as-yet undiscovered dimension.

Josef Woodard, News-Press Correspondent
Santa Barbara News-Press, Santa Barbara, CA
February 15, 2008

Reprinted with permission from the Santa Barbara News-Press.