LAUNCH Gallery: Kirk Pedersen “Ambiguity”

LAUNCH LA is proud to present Ambiguity, an exhibition of new works by Kirk Pedersen. Graphically bold and possessed of confounding depth, this series combines Asian influences with a thoroughly American style of abstract expressionism, creating an engrossing and unique hybrid aesthetic. An opening reception will be held Saturday, October 11 from 6-9 PM. The show will run through November 1, 2014.

Ambiguity primarily features thickly-layered collage pieces of acrylic paint, canvas, wood, advertisements and notices gathered on Pedersen’s sojourn through the urban biomes of Asia. These paintings bear the names of the locales which inspired them or from which the detritus of ad-copy, ticket stubs and mysterious digits were gathered: ‘Bangkok’ and ‘Hong Kong’ – names that in the popular imagination are imbued with a sense of exotic vibrancy. Some pieces display overt visual cues to their origins, most often Chinese hanzi characters or segments of Thai script. Other pieces rely on a subtle harmony between their palette of bright reds, yellows and blues and peeling pastels to conjure spirit of the cities that inspired them.

For avid travellers, or wishful romantics, paintings like ‘Hong Kong 4040’ or ‘Hong Kong 49’ may raise the image of bustling street markets: hawkers and stalls clamouring for attention to tottering towers of musty books, kitschy Hong Kong movie memorabilia or the delicacies of Kowloon’s wet markets. The distressed surfaces, heaped layers of paint and saturated posters also hint at a more sombre truth however: cities in flux, caught up in the unparalleled growth of both their populations and wealth.

Pedersen’s visual style is strongly reminiscent of China’s traditional hutong neighbourhoods, rich in signs of continued use and habitation, as well as the quieter, more forlorn back alleys of Bangkok. The works with a Chinese context document the accidental aesthetic of streets deemed too old fashioned or run-down to have a place in China’s future. As Pedersen himself witnessed over his visits to China, such neighbourhoods often disappear in the space of months, razed to make way for ambitious new projects. Pedersen’s work however is not inherently political: it seems driven by an outsider’s fascination with the ephemeral beauty inherent in superficially mundane environments. Paintings like ‘Bangkok Chinatown’ feature elements of American branding, such as the ubiquitous Coca-Cola logo chopped and spliced into native textures. Such instances present an ambiguity of place and form a gateway to comparisons with American cities, such ethnic enclaves like San Francisco’s Chinatown or the decaying grandeur of Detroit’s inner city – or indeed Broadway in Downtown Los Angeles, with its shuttered Movie Palaces.

Ambiguity has clear parallels with Pedersen’s previous endeavour, Urban Asia, a collection of photographs gathered on his travels around China, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. This series included almost claustrophobic close-ups of crumbling plaster, suffocated by countless layers of peeling yellow posters and leaflets which seem to have marked the beginnings of Ambiguity’s distinct aesthetic. Pedersen’s latest works however also have a broader artistic context, reminiscent of Jane Frank’s wood collages and even the work the German collagist Kurt Schwitters.

The image of Pedersen as an enthralled foreign observer of Asia’s by-gone splendours and its journey into an ambiguous future, echoes Lafcadio Hearn and other 19th century artists who derived inspiration from an Asia caught in the transition between eras.

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