In “The Grotesk of Raising,” Kinke Kooi’s solo exhibition—and her West Coast debut—the Dutch artist deploys the figurative verisimilitude of botanical and anatomical illustration while demonstrating the slipperiness of symbolism and the potency of metamorphosis.
Kooi’s compact arrangements of forms, primarily executed in acrylic, gouache, and colored pencil, often reach to the furthest edges of her unframed surfaces, evoking riotous processes of cellular replication. A tidal cornucopia of marine flora, mussels, and pearls bulges outward in Birth of Venus, 2020, and wreathes the painting’s central motif: a sinuous, equivocal cavity. One could easily label this horror vacui, yet the exquisitely detailed, miniature household scenes and stage sets nestled within the folds of Kooi’s more voluminous organic forms imply a fascination with portals, which lead into all manner of vast psychic spaces. Gnomic questions, aphorisms, and individual words handwritten in pencil are likewise scattered throughout. The phrase “all of my kindness is taken for weakness” reappears in several discrete paintings, a reproach that betrays the complexity of this fecund exhibit.
In Why Do Men Have Nipples? (2), 2020, and Immanence (2), 2018, the dominant subjects––nipples and strawberries, respectively––are submerged into patterns that echo their contours, just as the ripples on a lake’s surface reiterate the shape and power of a disturbance. It is as if each object in Kooi’s universe projected its own aura: The strawberries in Immanence discharge undulating waves of strawberryness in all directions. Kooi seamlessly integrates delicate found materials such as buttons and fragments of sea-urchin shell into the surface of Why Do Men Have Nipples? (2), quietly confounding the viewer’s ability to distinguish “real” objects from their painted likenesses. Her works consistently reveal that the boundaries between what we imagine, perceive, and actually see are constructed and hazier than we presume.