John King
An Exhibit of Works at the Atkinson Gallery, Santa Barbara City College, through February 22nd
Review by Stephen T. Vessels

For John McDevitt King, painting is more a way of life than a matter of furthering a specific agenda. The intimate, elusive elements that populate his works bespeak a reverence for the individual example, the ephemeral incident, the thought the mind encounters on the precipice of action. "I'm intrigued by the gaps between thoughts," he says, "the moments when things crystallize." The subject matter in his paintings and drawings, ranging in size, in this exhibit, from 12" x 9" to 50" x 40", is diverse and mysterious. Some objects are readily identifiable -- pine cones, umbrellas, snowflakes, a chair. Others hover on the periphery of identification, altered by imagination -- a furry, luminous ladder, coiled rings, a cluster of suspended balls.

His "paintings" are actually painterly objects that incorporate drawing, collage and encaustic, a medium composed of purified beeswax and damar resin which can be colored with powdered pigments, applied to wood panels. The imagery is generally rendered as drawing, either on paper, which is then affixed to the panels, or on the wood itself. In the paintings these drawings are suspended, like thoughts adrift in a limitless mind, in fields of encaustic medium, subdued in coloration, which seem to oscillate gently and draw the eye to linger. And it is worth lingering, for given time, these paintings speak. Not to explain themselves, or clarify their meaning, but by inviting associations that stimulate reflection upon the ambiguous aspects of reality, and the fragile sensibilities of the heart that are too easily trampled in the rush to fit in, obtain the latest technological geegaw, and contend with the increasingly stressful pace of contemporary life. In "Night Gambit" a drawing of snowflakes and gem stones hovers above a copy collator, as if refusing to be sorted. In "Kowloon Shimmer," a flurry of umbrellas jumbles across a panel beneath what could be a diving board from which two droplet-like forms hang suspended, as if the event of rain is anticipated as a moment of sublime release.

Also exhibited are an assortment of drawings King has rendered over a period of years on hotel stationary. Again, here, is found a reverence for minutia, and immersion in an artistic process that is more about discovery than strategy. These drawings evoke the ineffable link that exists between identity and place. A sheet from the Regency Hotel in Fairbanks, Alaska bears a drawing of what could be mounds of snow or hills; the stationary of the Tamarack Beach Resort in Carlsbad, California bears a rendering of what might be the trunks of potted palms penetrating an eye-like opening in the sky. In 2002, King began a collaboration with noted poet William Corbett, sending Corbett a selection of these stationary drawings to which Corbett responded with poems. Corbett has written an eloquent essay about their collaboration which is included in the brochure.

The quality of color in King's paintings, he says, is less about conscious choice than about being honest about his feelings. Indeed, this work resonates with integrity -- the willingness to express what seems most clearly the next true thing to express, without necessarily knowing why or being able to justify doing so. This exhibit offers an opportunity to set aside, for a few moments, the need to have opinions and act with forethought, and relax in the beauty of the unknowable.

Santa Barbara, CA
February, 2008