Attracting attention in modern art is not easy. It’s an area where the unconventional is the norm, and where even the oddest eccentricities hardly cause its connoisseurs to bat an eye. But the latest exhibit at the Hyde Park Art Center, artist Kim Piotrowski’s Beds and Guns, is imbued with just a bit more of a twist to make its viewers pause and think. Featuring the largest collection of acrylic paintings on paper by the artist to date, it juxtaposes comfort and familiarity (beds) with chaos and disruption (guns), and compares the emotional concoctions that arise from both.
Piotrowski, a mixed media artist from the Chicago area, has a unique style, distinct in its myriad use of color and lack of determinate form, which is evident in this present exhibit. It is this hazy, blurry impression of her paintings that can first throw people off. For those of us who are used to clean lines and clear shadowing, the formlessness can be disconcerting.
In Beds and Guns, the images are defined through vacuoles and splotches of intense neon against soft pastel, ink against acrylic, and distorted shading. Occasionally, a bit of foil or denim work their way into a painting. Sometimes, there are outlines drawn with permanent markers, but they barely work as guidelines amid this ambiguous mix of colors and materials.
Entering the exhibit, a glimpse around gives the impression that all the paintings are the same—that they are all of the same ambiguity and strange contrasts. But, upon a closer look, the vagueness takes on a different tone.
For instance, “Arm in Arm in Arm” depicts a mass of beige tones that stems upwards and grows into the shape of a pistol. A jagged blue outline around the gun eats into the surrounding soft sea-green background. "In the Evening”, another painting, a couple sits beside a plant-carpeted bed on which giant flowers bloom.
Nearby hangs an image of a poisoned man with bright colors melting into a muddied, indistinguishable face, right beside a painting depicting the colors’ celebration of love over a bed. Paintings of bold, murky confusion are shown next to paintings of soft, colored puffs of light. Paintings of guns are seen side-by-side with paintings of beds.
This is not a simple exhibit. Viewers have to be able to distinguish things for themselves and accept some part of the paintings’ ambiguity. Some things are never clear. Yet, it can be an enriching experience.
This very same indefiniteness accentuates the paintings’ emotional expressivity. The paintings depict a fluidity of emotions that is unrestrained by solid lines. Emotions, like colors, diffuse into the unoccupied surroundings. In “Love in Plasma”, a cleanly outlined bed lies beneath a cloud-like collection of warm colors. The confines of the bed open to the emancipated flow of love and joy.
Perhaps without the ambiguity, viewers will never be able to feel the emotionality of the paintings in its entirety. It is a testament to Piotrowski’s experience and skill that the sharp disparity—from the harshness of chaos to the softness of love—can be conveyed so clearly and completely.