Kim Krause at PAC Gallery

Unlike many artists in academia who spend more time teaching than making art, Kim Krause, chair of the Fine Arts department at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, found enough studio time in 2010 to create the seven large (up to 80″ x 72″) paintings and six mixed media on multimedia artboard® [nb: registered] Studies, culled from a much bigger body of work, for his one-person show at PAC Gallery.

And these are not slapdash efforts. He labors over these oil-and-spray-paint canvases, layering color so that during his painstaking process, the color-field ground may change hue radically and elements disappear, leaving only ghostly images or pentimenti.

Krause’s work offers several points of entry: formally, in art historical context, and as narrative. But before you begin here at PAC, you have to get past the exhibition title: Kim Krause: Grace + Nepenthe.

First, neither Grace nor Nepenthe is a name. Grace is used as a common noun, and to make it perfectly clear, the gallery handout notes, it “is the challenge or process of achieving complete ease without the appearance of doing so.”

Nepenthe is more obscure. It, again from the gallery handout, “refers to a potion in ancient mythology used to forget daily reality and to amplify good feelings.” Nepenthe sounds more elegant than some controlled substance.

The second sentence of the handout explains the artist’s intent: “Krause renders simplified dress forms, turned upside-down to explore loss of memory in relation to grace.” And the last sums it up: “It is within the intersection of the realities of nepenthe and grace, that Krause[‘es] work focuses.”

I have a prejudice against any art that requires such explication and generally ignore any written attempt to illuminate what’s on view until I have spent time studying the work. But I was stumped by the exhibition title and turned immediately to the gallery handout. However, willfully putting that knowledge aside, I approached the work on my terms.

Formally Krause creates a field of color, luscious hues that are sweet in a quite literal sense. In Grace & Nepenthe # 8 (all of the painting are titled Grace & Nepenthe with a number, which I will use to identify them), it is orange sherbet, Tang in # 9, limeade in # 3, and that unnatural blue of Popsicles in # 4.

The fields are contradictory spatially, suggesting both a single plane or backdrop, and depth. Krause conveys the latter with ghostly bubbles floating in space, and some of his “necklaces” of beads, chains, ropes, or twine pass in front of others to create an indeterminate depth. They dangle in space, suspended from a delightful explosion of shapes: ribbons turning on themselves, unnatural botanical and insect forms, circles like the rings of Saturn.

Seen in an art historical context, the nonobjective nature of Krause’s art evokes Kandinsky, and his images bear some relation to the fantastical elements of the 15th-century Netherlandish painter Hieronymus Bosch. A friend of mine wrote her doctoral dissertation on Alchemical Symbolism in Hieronymus Bosch. She argued that Bosch incorporated images of the distillation apparatus that apothecaries used to produce practical remedies. The same equipment was used in the attempts to transmute base metals into gold—what most people construe as alchemy. Krause’s images can be interpreted as his attempt to transform the ordinary into something extraordinary.

For the handsome catalogue accompanying the exhibition, Krause asked poet Ruth Wartman to respond to the individual works. Her writing endows them with a sense of narrative, much like program music, notably Mussorgsky’s 1874 Pictures from an Exhibition. Wartman muses about # 7:

Above the pier

And coarse water

Two gulls appear to float

Against a throbbing wind.

The opposition keeps them buoyant.

They cannot survive as grace alone.


Her poems, rather than limiting interpretation, liberate viewers to create their own narratives.

This show also includes six Studies, which survived Krause’s rigorous editing. According to gallery owner Annie Bolling, he makes 10 and discards three.

Krause’s Studies have a lyricism that his highly refined paintings somehow don’t. Here line triumphs over color. With their ghostly atmosphere and loops, which can be read as featureless faces, they remind me of Christopher Wilmarth’s late works with blown glass, inspired by the poetry of Stéphane Mallarmé.

How important is understanding Krause’s exhibition title? Fortunately not very. 

– Karen S. Chambers

Kim Krause, Grace + Nepenthe at the PAC Gallery, 2540 Woodburn Ave., Cincinnati, OH, 45206. Tel. 513.4078747. Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, noon-5 p.m.; Friday, noon-7 p.m.; Saturday, noon-5 p.m., Sunday, noon-4 p.m. Closed Monday. Through Oct. 30.


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