"#Narcissiphus - The Futility of Affirmation through Social Media" is one panel of a recent triptych by local surrealist painter Alan Kindler.
"’Narcissiphus’ has a little bit to do with attention culture and social media," the artist told me during our conversation for this week’s Art on the Air. "And I thought it would be interesting if the figures in the painting are engaged with their phones and their tablets and they’re naked, and in a sort of idyllic classical Greek environment. But I thought it would be really interesting if the viewer then could have a spot in the painting."
To accomplish that goal, Kindler added a black silhouette to the foreground with a painted-on note asking onlookers to "STAND HERE 2 TAKE SELFIE."
"Now whether that’s a healthy thing to do or not, I can’t say," the painter joked. "But it’s what we do."
Engagement with the audience is an important part of Kindler’s practice, a trait that comes from his years of projective dream work. This study of the subconscious involves gathering together like-minded individuals to discuss their dreams and offer alternative interpretations of the symbolism therein.
"The idea there is that as we share insights about each others dream life, we have an ‘a-ha’ moment where the dreamer suddenly says, ‘Oh, now it makes sense,’" Kindler explained. "Now I understand.’
"You become very familiar with the idea with associative thinking, and the idea that everything is a metaphor for something else," he added.
The surrealist applies the same philosophy to his paintings, both in the way he constructs his compositions and how he ultimately shares the work with his viewers.
"The process of making the painting is like dreaming while awake," said Kindler. "The painting...seeps out of the subconscious. And at some point they get snagged by the rational mind, and we try to put it in some kind of sensible order."
From there, it’s up to the viewer to decide what the painting means for them.
"The practice of group dream work employs the phrase, ‘if this were my dream’ when one listener reflects on the dream of another in the group," the artist wrote in the statement about his technique. "Try to approach the work as ‘if this were my painting’ and explore your own encyclopedia of symbols. See what’s common and what’s unique to your experience. On seeing, what do you feel?"
Like the aforementioned recent triptych, much of Kindler’s work is perfect for this type of shared experience, with their thought-provoking titles, layers of undefined metaphor, and the ambiguous expressions on the faces of the figures within.
The painting "Mother is the Invention of Necessity," for example, is full of possible meaning, and even the artist chose not to project his own ideas onto the images within during the creative process.
"I took the bust of a model who we’d been working with," Kindler related. "The way she held her mouth invited a hummingbird. And so there’s a cloud of hummingbirds around her."
Additionally, the painter added fish, birds, and an octopus, and the figure’s body is actually a honeycomb surrounded by bees. Once the work was completed, the artist had that "a-ha moment" where he seemed to discover something of the origins of the piece after the fact.
"And then, like it happens in dream work, I remembered that I knew a poem," he recalled. "And I wasn’t thinking of it consciously when I made it. But it was a little snippet of a poem called ‘Last Night As I Was Sleeping’ by Antonio Mechado."
Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt-marvelous error!-
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.
In spite of this bit of insight into the artist’s intentions, Kindler would prefer that onlookers come to their own conclusions. He’s hoping that the recent CDC compliant re-opening of Cedar House Gallery, where the artist has his studio, will allow for an exchange between he and the art-viewing public that’s been missing since early this year.
"The thing about the pandemic is that I’ve had so few conversations with anybody," Kindler lamented. "As in dream work, I don’t want to tell you what this painting means. It means something to me, but art is having a dialogue. And so what does this bring up for you?"
You can view Alan Kindler’s paintings by scheduling an appointment to visit Cedar House Gallery via their website at www.cedarhousegallerysav.com. He’ll be having an exhibition of five new pieces in the space at 122 East 36th Street from November 11th-14th. His work can also be found at AlanKindler.com and KindlerStudio.com.
Next week I’ll be speaking with multidisciplinary artist Edgar Sanchez Cumbas about "No. This is Not the Color of Flesh," his current exhibition at the SCAD Museum of Art.
Tune in to "Art on the Air" every Wednesday from 3-4 p.m. on WRUU 107.5 FM in Savannah, and streaming worldwide at www.wruu.org.
Art off the Air is a digital-only column that is posted every week on dosavannah.com as a companion piece to the WRUU 107.5 FM show "Art on the Air."
Rob Hessler is an artist, host of the radio show Art on the Air on WRUU 107.5 FM Savannah, and Executive Director of Bigger Pie, a Savannah-based arts advocacy organization.