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A conversation about Kevin Mack’s New Forms exhibit

(Standing in front of “Neurosymphonic Self-Reflection,” a digitally enhanced painting.)

SCOTT: I don’t mean to sound too critical, but this is pretty cool.

JENESSA: Yeah, it’s definitely got a lot to offer. It’s got this really strong Dali-eque vibe. The title of the piece kind of gives it away. Neurosymphonic. You might see that there’s kind of a musical instrument up here in the front that’s been warped.

Dali comes to mind because I see this clock here —

SCOTT: It’s melting.

JENESSA: Right. So we have this classic nod that seems to be happening here.

SCOTT: When people talk about abstract art, they usually mean art in which the images don’t look like actual things. But here you can see elements of actual things …

JENESSA: Whenever you’re looking at something, like say you’re looking at clouds, your mind always wants to find something recognizable in the abstract. [There’s a word for that tendency: pareidolia.] So Kevin is leaving little pieces of recognizable things that you can latch onto to satisfy that left-brain impulse: “Oh, I know what that is, that’s part of a trumpet; that’s part of a motorcycle headlight,” and then you can move on and get lost in the imagery, travel through the layers, starting with that little piece you were able to latch onto.

SCOTT: Speaking of the title, I think the “Neuro-” is also telling, because it has a very nerve-ganglion kind of feel to it.

JENESSA: It kind of looks like, if you can imagine inside your head, all the memories crammed in there, just layered and compacted onto one another. That really makes me think about, when you’re thinking, and something unrelated pops into your head that’s maybe slenderly connected — you have this memory from your childhood, or an experience, or the last place you went to have dinner — and it pops in, kind of unbidden. And I think these pieces kind of touch on those connections with their compact layering of imagery.

SCOTT: Let’s talk about “Mr. Crazy’s Complex Agenda.” There’s a lot of movement happening here. And some of these elements are even more representative of nerves …

JENESSA: Of neural pathways, things happening in the brain. They’re very organic, morphed. Again, gives you that surreal vibe, especially in the kind of chunky, biomorphic forms. There are some paintings of biomorphic forms by Dali that totally look like that.

SCOTT: Yeah, until you mentioned it, I had a nagging sense of familiarity, but I didn’t connect it with Dali …

JENESSA: It also gives me, to a certain extent, maybe a bit of a Jackson Pollock vibe? With its all-over dripping and morphing, its bright colors — but definitely updated with digital technology.

That would be interesting to think about: What does it mean to make digital paintings as opposed to the classic method?

SCOTT: Correct me if I’m wrong, and I probably am, but when Pollock did his thing, it was, in a lot of ways, about liberating painting from the tyranny of having to paint the real — it was literally how the paint and the canvas worked together. So have these pieces moved beyond that? Are they another iteration of that idea? Or are they about something else completely?

JENESSA: I think they might have moved beyond that in some ways. But actually, it does seem to have a connection. A lot of what Pollock wanted to do was directly access the subconscious, and let it get out there and interact on the canvas without conscious interference. Perhaps to some extent this is happening here, but it seems more deliberate and conscious than Pollock’s work does. But I think that idea is definitely present.

SCOTT: Yeah, there’s certainly more control evident here than what you’d think of in traditional abstract expressionism.

JENESSA: The digital medium alone gives the artist some really specialized tools that he wouldn’t have with paint-drip methods.

SCOTT: I don’t see as much nonrepresentational art these days. Is this stuff kind of revitalizing that tradition, or is that tradition not in need of revitalizing?

JENESSA: We’re in such an age of pluralism now. Artists are dipping into multiple art movements simultaneously, and there are no real allegiances to any particular mode of expression. It’s kind of a free-for-all, you know? Dipping into surrealism, dipping into abstract-expressionism, dipping into computer-graphic art.

SCOTT: Those are not influences that might have intersected in earlier times.

JENESSA: Yeah, this does actually present a unique opportunity for artists like Pollock and Dali to come together, which you might not anticipate — how would that happen? And here, it’s like, if I could have imagined it, this might be exactly what it would be like.

Mack is utilizing the digital medium in a really interesting way. There are a lot people out there who think of a person making art on a computer, “Oh, that’s not a real artist. They’re working on a computer, they’re using software, it’s not as difficult as a traditional medium like painting. Or it’s not as serious.” These images make a great case for an artist choosing a medium that best expresses what he wants to say.

That’s a conversation I have with my art-appreciation students — are [digital works] as valid as painting or sculpture? Some people are like, “Oh, no, photography is easy, you just click a button, it’s no big deal.” Or “You’re using a computer, so it’s quick.” It’s not as difficult, so it’s less valuable. I’m always interested in that conversation.

SCOTT: Isn’t that sort of a modernist idea, that great art is the result of a difficult psychological and creative process — it’s not supposed to be easy?

JENESSA: Well, I would say that this is definitely not easy.

SCOTT: It does not look easy!

JENESSA: It has got to take as much time, effort and thought to create these colors, compositions and forms as any painter in the studio with the oils or acrylics.

SCOTT: I just think they’re so damn eye-catching.

JENESSA: Very. They’re sensual, but also have masculine quality, because they’re motor parts that are stretched, and now they’re soft and curvy; that gives them an interesting clash.

NEW FORMS, Kevin Mack, through Dec. 1, Brett Wesley Gallery, 1112 S. Casino Center Blvd.,