contemporary relics

Brant Kingman, Minneapolis artist

Brant Kingman, Minneapolis artist

Seated in the repository of supposedly nonsensical phrases, sits a jewel of an idea: the idea of a contemporary relic. The nonsensicality of the phrase is quite clear.

Contemporary: modern, current.

Relic: an object of the past.

The phrase comes from Brant Kingman, a Minneapolis artist who has united these two disparate ideas. Things we make are relics of the moment in which we create them. Through an artistic lens, these creations can be both timeless and intensely representative of the moment.

Brant speaks of art as an act of discovery. And discovery is perhaps the greatest of teachers. Brant is fascinated by exploring what he considers the frontier of human consciousness- the part of his awareness that lies a step beyond his understanding. Being bored with what he already knows is partly what keeps him exploring. Many people seem to live in a way where they “put candy out on the counter” so to speak, see that people will buy it, and so they put more candy out. All they ever end up doing in life is restocking the candy. Brant needs more than this.

I met Brant at his 6,000-plus square foot studio space in Minneapolis. The space holds 70,000+ drawings, paintings, sculptures, plus an endless assortment of materials… rusty nails, burdock burrs, a seven-foot-tall Jesse Ventura bobble head doll commissioned by MIA, a spaceship commissioned by the American Museum of Art, scraps of metal, miniature plastic animals, icons representing all sorts of cultures, times and religions… pull something random out of your mind and it’s likely in there.

Now, he needs to move out. Unexpectedly.

The preparation feels unproductive. It’s familiar. It’s “known.” There’s no discovery in this process. He’s at his most productive when he’s “on the cusp of a wave, in the present moment.” It’s in this state, when he can give fully to life. There’s discovery here.

Recently he’s been creating paintings by painting a dark ground on paper in no particular design and then looking at the result just as one looks at the clouds, picking out observed images. Drawing inspiration from images he pulls out of abstract painting, he then creates new artworks he wouldn’t have otherwise conceived of.

Much of this process is learning. He observes the “mistakes” that occur, the unexpected results. What he sees is a reflection of his inner state.

What a beautiful process this is. It has the ability to teach him things about himself that he wouldn’t otherwise have the ability to learn.

In this regard, there is much about art that is beyond our comprehension. Perhaps this is one reason we are attracted to art. But conversely, it may also be fearful.

Brant speaks of his extreme aversion to weakness. This is, I’m convinced, is largely a part of the human condition. We’re less than eager to prove our deficiencies to ourselves.

But really, the fear stems from mindset.

Fear comes from feeling we’ve gained something and we don’t want to lose it.
— B.K.

The Warrior- “Yesterday’s hero is tomorrow’s villain.”

The elements that Brant finds most fascinating about his art are the ones that he can’t control. The “mistakes.” In speaking about one of his creations, he says, “really, what I find interesting is not the figure, but what time does to it…”

Time is beyond anyone’s control. Here again, there exists another seeming paradox. We’re drawn to objects and stories that possess a great deal of time. The sense of something being ancient provides us with a sense of comfort. We continually panic that we’re running out of time and so to interact with something relatively timeless, is a gift of an opportunity.

Pointing to an immaculate Persian rug cloaking the floor in the corner of his studio, he wonders if we’re drawn to such things because of the time someone put into making it. In other words, we get a sense of the “infusion of human energy” that produced something so detailed and beautiful.

It’s a risk, being an artist.
— B.K.

He doesn’t see himself as fitting into the mold of the contemporary art world, which he says is so much about branding and creating a niche identity. There’s too much variance in his work for that. There’s a certain unfinished quality about many of his pieces, as if they’re still works in progress.

He uses a steak analogy here: If you cook the steak too much, it looses its flavor. It’s the same with art. Too polished, and it looses its fascination. The sense of discovery is lost.

As the theme of time is so pronounced in his work, so it is in his wondering about his life’s work. “I really can’t tell if everything that I’ve set my life to being, which now seems so antique and so out of step with contemporary culture… I really can’t tell if there might be some revival of that awareness or if it’s just gonna be gone and I’m gonna be some sort of strange creature that was enamored by the past.”

The act of discovery is a state of artistry and one that beckons us to drop our pretense of control. It is, to borrow Brant’s phrase, an act of “facilitating human potential.”

Oh how complicated and beautiful is the human condition…

Having seen this posting, Brant shared his feedback with me. He was very gracious in his notes and I made a few changes thereafter. I view this project as an experiment and a learning process, so (with his permission granted), I’d like to share his comments:

“My overall comment is that you missed the bigger picture. It’s not about the artifact but the experience of art. … all of my art, places the emphasis of my effort not on the objects I make but on the experience people have when they encounter each other in the environment I created, the intention of which has been set by the objects that populate it, the lighting that illuminates it, and the sound that pervades it. My studio is the externalization of the inside of my mind. Sharing my perspective is the most generous act and therefore the greatest contribution I can imagine, because my perspective is the one thing the rest of the world doesn’t have.”