Like partial composites of landscapes the artist has visited, Kao’s paintings could be thought of as microclimates, containing their own weather, terrain, vegetation, and light.
In Gallery II, Goldfinch is pleased to present “something about grinding down, something about glittering,” a solo exhibition of new paintings by James Kao. The exhibition is on view from September 10 to October 22.
In many ways, James Kao’s painting practice begins in places outside the studio—in forests, near lakes and rivers, in mountains, and, more specifically as it relates to the new paintings on view, in the deserts and landscapes of the American West where Kao has spent extensive time in recent months. The exhibition title, taken from a poem by Sarah Bitter, a Seattle-based writer and the artist’s good friend, refers to sand and its effects on surfaces over time. Though miniscule when isolated, sand also behaves like water, wearing away very slowly at rocks and migrating incrementally across the landscape. In reference to the deserts and arid landscapes of the West, Kao muses that “things don’t disappear so easily.” Instead, the sun often preserves, and the open landscape reveals things left behind. In those landscapes, “there’s a chance you might come across something very old,” Kao explains. “You might find land art or shards of pottery, or petroglyphs carved in the rocks.”
While the abstracted landscapes of Kao’s paintings contain the specificity of place, they are not direct observations of a single location. Like partial composites of landscapes the artist has visited, Kao’s paintings could be thought of as microclimates, containing their own weather, terrain, vegetation, and light. Their color palettes often suggest the light you might find in a particular environment, like the glow of a forest in the evening when greens are their brightest or the coppery cast of the sun in the high desert. Yet in Kao’s paintings, these places become combined memories of life in different landscapes, and of what we begin to observe when we’ve stayed somewhere long enough.
Over the past year, the artist experienced a particularly acute state of grief. Indeed, many of Kao’s paintings take forms that could be said to mirror the grieving process itself, in that they are layered, disorienting, and can reveal themselves anew even after time has passed. In some, floating orbs which could be suns or moons, along with tree-like forms, jagged clouds, and other slightly-familiar-yet-unknown shapes appear to collapse or be pulled apart from one another. Sometimes Kao may scrape away an entire day’s work on a painting if he feels unsatisfied with the results, but even then, he allows some residual marks to linger on the surface, however faint and hidden they may at first seem.
James Kao is a Chicago-based artist who makes paintings and drawings. Selected one-person exhibitions include Do it cuz you love it, China Projects, San Francisco, CA; Possible Worlds, Toomey Tourell Fine Art, San Francisco, CA; Domestics, Adds Donna, Chicago, IL; Starlight, boundary, Chicago, IL; and Quarry, Sears Peyton Gallery, New York, NY. He has attended various artist residencies including: Marina Abramovic Institute-West, San Francisco, CA; White Mountain National Forest Artist in Residence, Center Sandwich, NH; Joshua Tree Highlands Artist Residency, Joshua Tree, CA; The Alfred and Trafford Klots International Program for Artists, Lehon, France; Trélex Residency, Trélex, Switzerland; and Montello Foundation, Montello, NV.