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3/30/2006

Culture > Feature

NIGHT VISION
Reading the psyche of surrealist Kim Jones

 

To any artist, opening up a direct portal into your subconscious is an undertaking fraught with risk. What if inner visions that you consider inherently beautiful strike your audience as grotesque? What if attempts to render the fiercest hellhounds of the mind inspire nothing more than a tossed-off "It's nice"? Is it even possible to separate a casual critique from a personal knock when the art you've put on display comes straight from the wellspring of your very being?

The digital manipulations of Kim Jones don't just invite such judgment; they court it as assiduously as lovers of the 1920s pitched woo. Surreal scene studies that wed the identifiable with the extraordinary, they arise, the artist says, from dreams she has at night and then rushes to her computer to immortalize. What you get is pure Jones – or at least what her psyche looks like through a thin filter of early-morning eye crust and Photoshop rejiggering.

"What must go on in your head?" she recalls patrons wondering aloud at a past show. The question is raised anew by 10 works Jones has on display at Pom Pom's Tea House & Sandwicheria (67 N. Bumby Ave.). In "Plato's Cave," a kneeling female gazes into an underground pool while a vaguely insectoid creature tests the waters with its tendril. "Wretched Man" presents two more kneeling figures, but these are frightening, sui generis creatures with bear-trap jaws and skeletal bodies made of what looks like wicker. Between them is a row of skulls arranged in the neatest, most meticulous of configurations. (A bit of feng shui after the massacre, perhaps?) The far more playful "March of the Bunnies" has rabbits fashioned from tin foil and metal parading past a brick building that's bathed in rich blue and orange light; in a window sits a little girl, beaming in approval of the daffy pseudoanimals. Could it be Jones, delighted by the ongoing procession of her own inscrutable imagination?

Quite possibly, she allows, though she's just as quick to extend credit to her friend S.C. "Corey " Adams, who sculpted the three-dimensional bunnies that were photographed for the piece. For her raw material, Jones mostly relies on photos taken by herself and others (Molly MacCartney also contributed to the Pom Pom's selection), and occasionally delves into storehouses of stock images. Once the source objects have passed through the mill of her computer skills, they're recognizable only in the abstract: They've been hammered into the shape of Jones' remembered dreams.

Many of the pieces betray an overt Japanese flavor that meshes with the Sino-American vibe of Pom Pom's (where paper lamps provide the light by which one reads handbill menus decorated with the stylized face of an Asian girl). Geishas are a natural part of the landscape in pieces like "Dream Wars 15," which uses one such female as the thematic bridge between a Tokyo streetscape and the lower-right-corner image of another woman, her own ethnicity obscured by a magnifying glass that accentuates her unforgiving stare.

"I went through a period when I was dreaming of geishas," Jones says. "I'm not sure why." Not one for second-guessing, she also shuns the self-aggrandizement of the huckster artist; it was largely due to the coaxing of friends that she even began exhibiting her work in 2005. That was after years of toiling as a graphic designer/production artist for firms like Harcourt and the old Yab Yum nightlife complex in Wall Street Plaza (and even, for a spell, at Orlando Weekly). She always did an extensive amount of sketching, painting and collage work in her spare time and for her own enjoyment, but Jones didn't begin producing her current brand of photo-manipulation art until the very end of 2004.

"It's been fun. And much cheaper than therapy," she says.

We get to benefit, too. Her works reward the observer with their strong composition, arresting graphics and, most of all, an unforced individualistic spirit that doesn't pander to narrow emotional expectations or outmoded notions of girlishness.

By the time you read this, Jones will have packed up her pillow and relocated to Atlanta. She'll have once again succumbed to the "itchy feet" that have in her young lifetime taken her between here, upstate New York, North Carolina and now Georgia. But she promises that she'll keep showing her work in Orlando. "I have a feeling I'm going to be floating between the two cities," she says, adding a tellingly understated chapter to a personal history that may have taken some courageous turns. (Art promoter Mendi Cowles, who was her boss back in the Yab Yum days, says admiringly that Jones has been known to hop trains – in the literal, onto-a-moving-car sense – when she felt it was time to make a change.)

Jones' next art booking is for an August exhibit at Austin Coffee & Film in Winter Park. Just as the pieces in her display conveniently match Pom Pom's Asian motif, the Austin show will have its own theme, though Jones has yet to decide exactly what it will be. Guess she'll have to sleep on it.

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