by Elizabeth Johnson, Art Practical
Taking in Kimetha Vanderveen’s show at Mina Dresden Gallery in the Mission, I notice that the gallery’s giant, textured walls offer the perfect contrast to her diminutive, smoothly applied oil paintings. The show features wooden surfaces prepared with gesso: small squares and rectangles and two groups of white sculptures.
At first glance, I understand that this work has been sanded, buffed, or burnished on multiple occasions. The artist carefully applies layers of paint as controlled but lively brushstrokes, subdued colors and calligraphic lines.
Just as selectively, she removes wet paint with a rag or dry paint with a sander. In a conversation, she tells me that “sanding most often is a short touch or swipe to take off a dried layer or small area of paint, a way to get back down to the gesso.” She goes on to say that “the process of adding paint and removing can be akin to the effects of weather, elements and geologic time…. I like the effects of the little bits of paint that are left.”
Looking at Seta (2010), I see how Vanderveen broke back into layers of red and yellow, keying the bright color to a white and grey background. Little etched hints of red wink through the white ground: preserved whispers of paint, nearly erased but saved by a deft hand.
The tough, taut surface unifies the painting. Smooth as polished stone, it is a reminder of all the physical work that went into making it. Paint addition competes with paint removal, opening a field for chance events that snag the
artist’s eye: a burr in the wood, a trace of a dried brushstroke, a persistent mite of color―something to build on or risk losing altogether.
Sanding and rubbing, glazing the entire surface, building up shapes that approach but stop short of an image, the artist seeks to “finish” a good start or a collection of good elements. The surfaces she creates range from hard as glass to powdery and toothsome, like paper or wood. In her most successful paintings, Vanderveen chooses a subtle and economical resolution.
One of the standout pieces, Untitled # 5 (2010), gels because the lightest fleck of white paint on the bottom edge of the surface pulls a hazy fingerprint or reworked wet paint smudge out of visual center. I smile for how easy and how hard that must have been. On the whole, the work showcases paint's particular anomalies, blips and bruises—singularities worth our notice—with humor, balance and restraint.