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Kaethe Kauffman and Nolan Preece: Mixed Media Experimental Photography

Although totally unknown to each other, two pertinacious Nevada artists—Kaethe Kauffman in Las Vegas and Nolan Preece in Reno—will soon have their photography featured together in Los Angeles. The two artists each distill a clarity of vision that is metaphoric and, at times, hauntingly nuanced with spirituality. A practicing Buddhist, Kauffman creates original figures of contemplation. Preece’s work is steeped in primeval naturalism, and includes protests against the ecological depredation of our environment.

Kauffman holds a PhD in Art History from Union Graduate School in Cincinnati, Ohio. After many years teaching art at Honolulu’s Chaminade University, she now spends most of her time in her Las Vegas studio. Her work dwells at the intersection of the physical and the spiritual, at the confluence of the transcendental. Kauffman’s creative practice itself is devotional, enhancing her meditations, personal reflections and reveries. Profoundly introspective, the artist explains, “Religious art glorifies the sacred experience. My imprint is personal and through my process, it is my inner world which is revealed for all to see.”

 

Kauffman begins by drawing, sometimes adding collage which is photographed or scanned, re-collaged, then re-photographed and digitally printed with archival pigments and papers. This repetition produces the final substrate, which the artist hand-embellishes to complete each piece. Many of Kauffman’s subjects celebrate the world they inhabit with a vivid polychromatic palette. Forces of unity and peace fill the cosmology of her figures; her use of Buddhist tropes conjoin inner and outer lives. This duality of mind and spirit, the positive and the negative, the abstract and the concrete, is a leitmotif of her work depicting the inner self and its doppelganger.

In Canelle Quad and Meditation Oblique Red, four personalities—or states of being—blaze joyously in their resplendent colors. Kauffman’s work languidly entices us to share her various states of consciousness, welcoming the viewer deep inside the emotional, spiritual and intellectual layers of her pieces.  Her artworks ultimately become fantasies that shimmer with divine reverence.

Preece is an experimental photographer who creates images without lens or camera, by painting various chemicals onto light-sensitive silver halide paper. After they are fixed and dry, the images are scanned by the artist into high-resolution files, which he uses to make prints, the biggest of which measures 44 by 54 inches. The artist came to this continually evolving process through his own experimentation in the early 1980s, calling his new invention, the “chemigram.” In the 1950s, Pierre Cordier, who was unknown to Preece at the time, had developed a similar process. The fascinating results of this technique are a combination of inspired painting and photographic realization. Both luminous and numinous, Preece’s chemigrams confound the mind and delight the eye.

A long-time professor of photography at Truckee Meadow Community College, Preece now works full time at his Reno studio. At Forest’s Edge, like many of the artist’s chemigrams, is a sensuous imaging that recalls the sublime, mystical nature of primordial forests, lakes and rivers. The work is seductive and phantasmagorical. Employing lushly swirled brushstrokes of chemicals to anoint his light-sensitive papers, the artist references the cliché-verre photograms of early-19th century French painters. Preece’s contemplations on the bonds of nature are filled with viscous resists and gullies of washes that draw one back into that painterly epoch.

 

The artist’s oeuvre includes works that are dystopian and post-apocalyptic. These pieces highlight the artist’s growing concern about the politics of ecology, global warming and the menace of fossil fuels. Big Oil Finds Its Page in Time, Chemical Climate Forcing, and Chemigram with Disappearing Oil Refinery are but three works that decry the massive machinery of oil pumps and refineries savaging the landscape. The destruction depicted is brutal: sinister machinery rips at the soft horizontals of the landscape, while unknown chemicals dissolve the vegetation, effecting an eradication of the earth’s geo-morphology. These chemigrams express a mournfulness while giving a hard slap of protest to those devastating the ecology of the planet.

Preece, who is married to a research ecologist said, “I’ve been concerned about the destruction of the environment for many years. My first chemigrams, made in the early 1980s, had an emphasis on our physical surroundings—our earth, our waterways. I document and fight for the environment.”

Kauffman and Preece take two different approaches to the spiritual: Hers, an interior meditation; his, odes to the outside world and the beauty of nature. Ultimately, these two artist-photographers blur the painterly and photographic in highly imaginative ways. Both combine elements of painting, photography, drawing and digital reimaging. Their mastery of technique synthesizes a mystical, almost alchemical methodology into a potent, velvety, poetic presentation of images that lifts the soul. Their work will be shown together in an exhibit at The Loft at Liz’s in February, 2017.

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Phil Tarley is a fellow of the American Film Institute and a member of the Photographic Arts Council. Tarley writes about contemporary art and pop culture and curates photography for the AC Gallery, in Los Angeles. His book, Going Down on Cuba: Notes from an Underground Traveler, is slated for publication by Fabrik Press in 2017.

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