“What if this is it, y’all? Not saying it is, but what if it is?
Is this really what we want to do with our time?”
– Kim Bishop
My answer is simple — no. It’s 2019 and there is so much hostility, not just towards each other, but towards our environment as well. I, for one, am definitely tired of it and I’m not the only one. So, what’s there to do about it? Artists such as Kim Bishop are creating art to incite dialogue and most importantly — action. In her solo exhibition Paradise, currently on view at Freight Gallery & Studios, Kim Bishop explores the value of creativity and artistic sensibility in today’s increasingly tumultuous socio-political landscape. Bishop creates an oasis to escape and contemplate the actions of the society we live in. The artists shared that “with all of the political chaos and anger that has been manipulating our conversations lately, I found that I needed to seek refuge in my ‘happy place.’ In this latest body of work, I am exploring the beauty and serenity of my own backyard through woodcut relief paintings inlaid with paint.”
Known for telling the stories of her past, present, and future through subconscious imagery and process-oriented techniques, Bishop “draws using a variety of medium that requires self-examination and connection to the medium across specific platforms.” In her exhibition statement, the artist shared that “the bright colors [in the work] reflect my fascination with the surrealist movement and childhood love of the Wizard of Oz, while my lines embody my graphic roots. My imagery of nature is a sensual reminder of the importance of the preservation of our Earth home and asks the question ‘What if this is the Paradise?’”
Some might think of Coldplay’s song or others might relate “paradise” to the Garden of Eden, but Kim Bishop thinks of “paradise” as the ever-present reality of times. In the exhibition, Bishop illustrates her understanding of the human experience in our current condition and creates a well-needed dialogue. Entering the space, the viewer can see several small wooden slabs that have various scenes and perspectives of the ocean view. All of the paintings allude to time, hope, and rebirth and set the tone for the exhibition space. As the viewer continues onto the main space, they see eleven large prints and reliefs hanging from the walls and eight wood panels on the floor, leaning on the wall. These reliefs and prints depict close-ups and isolating images of fauna and flora she observed in her backyard. Bishop shares that she was so tired of being angry, that she turned to her backyard and started admiring and photographing nature.
The prints titled We Are All II, 2019, We Are All I, 2019, and We Are All III, 2019 depict two printed sunflowers overlayed with various color techniques. “We are all sun worshippers,” states Bishop. Studying the sunflowers located in her backyard and front yard, she uses it as a representation of mankind. “We are all the same despite our small differences.” It’s fascinating how her work addresses our human context even without a human being in the composition. Bishop engages the viewer with such personalized content but leaves room for the viewer to superimpose their own stories and experiences.
Creating these large prints is no easy task for Bishop. It is extremely labor intensive and has also served to be therapeutic for the artist. She shared that she works through the process backward. In other words, when most artists start off with a sketch on paper and transfer it over the computer or machine, Bishop begins her designs on Photoshop and Illustrator. She then takes it to the board and carves it with a plunge router. Bishop sands it, rolls the ink over the board and uses her hands and arms to press the paper to the board. Once she has a limited set of prints, the artist cleans up the board, inlays the paint, rolls over it once more, and then seals the board so it can never be printed again. She states that “by using complex process-oriented techniques, the act of visually constructing [her] stories is just as important as the stories themselves.”
On occasion, Bishop’s work and titles are influenced by poetry and art history. Bishop’s print titled Sepulchre Defies Topography, 2016 was printed at Texas A&M San Antonio and was inspired by one of Emily Dickinson’s poems regarding death. Bishop told us that in the poem, Dickinson goes up to death and asks where heaven is and death says “it’s over there.” She goes to said place, but there is nothing special about it — it’s the same. They go back and forth a few times. In the print, the artist outlines the Mexican and Texas border with circles alongside major border cities. She also includes a skeletal hand reaching across the composition to the text “Sepulchre Defies Topography” in which sepulchre is the French word for coffin. “Doesn’t matter where you are, this is heaven, we are all going to die.” She shares that this concept is the premise of the show. “What if this is it, y’all? Not saying it is, but what if it is? Is this really what we want to do with our time?”
Bishop’s use of her surroundings continues on to her piece Sky, 2019 situated right at the center of the viewer’s attention in the gallery space. Sky is inspired by the vast and beautiful sky she once experienced while driving along the border. There was a storm rolling in, but the sun was setting at the same time, so you could see the reflection onto the ground. However, the scenery was disturbed by the slatted fencing alongside the border. Her piece Sky is meant to recreate her experience through eight rectangular wooden boards sitting on the floor and set against the wall. Using a pointillism-like technique, each board is filled in with circles in hues of blue and purple, finished with a watercolor coat on top. The marbleized gallery floor beautifully reflects the piece and alludes to a body of water reflecting a sunset.
Continuing on to the wider hallway, Bishop displays smaller works on paper that serve as starting points for her most recent work. On the right, there are five works on paper that are part of a 40-day challenge. Every day she would mask a house out on a piece of paper and draw with ink for an hour. “My focus on the importance of ‘home’ has been a recurring theme in my work for the past 15 years. It’s all about home and security,” stated Bishop. Tapping into a vulnerable headspace, whatever came out in the drawing was a true reflection of her day. On the other side of the hall, Bishop arranges six smaller works with ink side by side titled Prelude. It’s the prelude to everything. The works on paper reflect a fig leaf on a cocktail napkin, Genesis, the creation of Eve, temptation, expulsion, and lastly, there is the rest of us. Bishop illustrates the beginning but leaves the narrative open-ended. It is up to us to define how we want to live and how we want to act.
We often live life in hopes to reach a better place, an alternative reality — a paradise of sorts. Kim Bishop reminds us that this might be everything there is to it. So, what are we doing with our current truth? Could we even consider it paradise? Kim Bishop’s solo exhibition Paradise is a beautiful reminder on the importance of the preservation of our earth, as well as the innate truth that we are all in this together, regardless of our race, gender, or sexual orientation. The artist is able to successfully incite discussion and continue this important dialogue without using overbearing direct references. Just like Kim Bishop said during our walk-through, “we need to take care of our home. This is our home.”
Kim Bishop: Paradise
Freight Gallery & Studios
1913 S Flores St,
San Antonio, TX 78204