To be honest, the first time I saw Kellesimone Waits’ show, “Natural Selection,” at Perihelion Arts, I had been drinking. In a classic belligerent tipsy tantrum, I was furiously waving my hands around, complaining about her riffs on pop culture. Although, now I’m not sure if I was angry because I actually was disappointed in the quality of the work, or if I was disappointed because Tom Waits wasn’t sitting in the back, asking, “What is he building in there?”
My drama-queen moment was partly about Tom Waits and partly about her show. What a challenge it must be to work from the shadow of such a giant, although Kellesimone Waits has proved she can hold her own, garnering national attention for her recent provocative “Power Plays” exhibition. According to her bio, this exhibit is her fifth solo exhibition (with over a dozen group shows). Not too shabby for a 27-year-old.
For her Phoenix debut, Waits presented a large selection of overpriced paintings and drawings centered around magazine imagery. According to her artist statement, Waits approached our pop-cultural media immersion through her selection process. She writes, “By selecting particular images and then choosing to paint them I have altered their life spans to exceed the average shelf life of a magazine, and in turn ensured their survival (if only in my own world).”
And so, the viewer is presented with a series of impulsive, dripping brushstrokes and toned-down palettes depicting “Ashley” on the cover of “Marie Claire,” “Lil Wayne” on the cover of “Rolling Stone,” a girl “Branded” by Prada eyewear, and a variety of random images that hint at the chance selection process used by Waits. The paintings are the weakest part of the show. While the technique of representing the ugly in our society with a gritty painting style is one toward which I am drawn, her technique is inconsistent and the representations too haphazard to create the intended impact.
Waits’ drawings, on the other hand, are more representative of the natural selection process, and although more simple, deserve evolutionary progress. The simple graphite lines on richly toned paper demonstrate a beautiful integration of concept and technique. The small microbursts of color evident in some of the drawings, like “Combat Cuddle,” (pictured), create a strong visual focus for the chosen media imagery. In Waits’ case, less is absolutely more.
“Natural Selection” is up at the fabulous Perihelion Gallery through October 30th.