Chris Kidd — Portraits
“Painting has always been like dreaming for me.” — Chris Kidd
Well-established West Coast artist Chris Kidd, known for her expressionistic
portrait and figurative work, has presented a new suite of close-ups that suggest anintense effort to see humanity on its own terms. Done in a robust manner, these collages on 6” mdf tiles incorporate painted surfaces and collage elements, some of which appear to be torn from book covers and other printed material (the written words generally do not appear to be linked with the visual content). The palette is relatively inclusive, and there are many contrasting planes, shapes, and jagged edges that combine into active, well-conceived compositions. Peeling back another layer, portraits have always been a potent vehicle for artists — one need only to think of the Mona Lisa, or of Titian’s paintings of Pope Paul III, for examples.
There is, in fact, something primordial or archetypal about the notion of faces in a
group: members of an enemy tribe or of one’s own team or cohort, crew on a ship or on a factory floor, a criminal lineup, the actors in a play bowing to applause, lines in stores and government offices . . . These lines serve to individualize their members by contrasting and thus emphasizing their differences, and can be seen to dramatic effect in Kidd’s collages. It even calls into question any relationships, overt or subversive, between the faces, and thus further suggests a past or ongoing narrative.
As a large-scale example of this, the XX C. Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa’s Message has chapters assigned to figures from Portuguese history. A synthesis is achieved between the described figure and a macro-historic picture of the corresponding era. The fascination with historic figures is taken fully into three dimensions in Hungary, where pagan and Christianizing leaders are given public sculptural life, each personage more grizzled and warlike than the other. Kidd’s democratized suite of faces could give rise to an uncountable number of stories; seen thus it is the artist’s gift to depict controlled chaos.
However, and whether artist, subject, or viewer, we are all victims of the present,
of having to wear masks, maintain social distance, and experience the greatest amount of social fracture since the Civil War. It is hard, paradoxically, to think of Kidd’s characters as having a greater amount of genuine freedom in their unmasked state; if anything, there is enough scheming, calculating and dissembling in the images as would befit Titian’s Pope Paul III. This is another way of saying that a lot goes missing when a mask is worn.
In the future — a hypothetical future in which today’s Covid masking
requirements are permanent — will there be a new kind of subversion, pornography even, associated with display of the unmasked face? For the time being, Kidd’s work reminds us that although the truth may not be pretty, we are better off knowing it.
Curator / Artist / Critic
Chris received her undergraduate degree from UC Davis. She was there in the 1960’s when the Northern California Funk movement was just getting started and was introduced to art by taking classes from Wayne Thiebaud and Manuel Neri. After college she lived in Germany for four years and traveled extensively in Europe. There she studied painting and was influenced by the German Expressionist Blue Rider and Die Brucke movements and French artists such as Matisse and Rouault. In 1979 she received an MFA in painting from the University of Hawaii. From 1995-2004 she taught watercolor painting at the Sharon Art Studio in Golden Gate Park.
“Her painting, although highly personal, can be seen as being impacted by Davis Funk, a German Expressionist communication of emotion and the glorious lush colors of the subtropical world of Florida and Hawaii.”
Art Historian, Curator Emeritus Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York