The paintings and sculpture of Jeff Fulmer and the photographs of Darius Kuzmickas shouldn’t go together as well as they do, yet their work has a strange affinity. The Las Vegas artists didn’t meet until they were chosen by a panel of architects, city representatives and citizens to create site-specific pieces for the Centennial Hills Community Center. The work on exhibit relates in style and content to the commissioned pieces and lets you see what so impressed the panel. (The center is open, but the commissioned works will not be installed until late October.)
The artists and gallery director Jeanne Voltura wisely decided to intermix their work throughout the exhibit. The effect is so seamless that at first glance I thought I might need to consult my list of works to find out whose work was whose, until I realized the artist’s oeuvres were not alike—far from it. Kuzmickas’ photographs of ocean sunsets are fuzzy and impressionistic; Fulmer’s botanically themed paintings and sculptures are clean and crisp.
Kuzmickas’ photographs are the opposite of high-definition. His use of a lensless pinhole camera results in soft, out-of-focus images. Their fuzziness is reminiscent of the earliest years of photography, but the effect is partly offset by the large format and streamlined contemporary framing. Well-worn subject matter is given a new twist. Long exposure times—five to 10 seconds—turn the setting sun into a cloud of fiery reds and oranges, more akin to the iconic mushroom cloud than to a benign orb, and in others transform it into a laser-like beam that rends the serene fabric of soft blue sky. They invite contemplation, not delectation; what could be Kodak moments become semi-abstract contemplations of time and nature; nature seen from the viewpoint of eternity, not your hotel balcony.
Fulmer’s work contemplates nature in a different way, by focusing on intricate botanical shapes and patterns. He has degrees in fine art but minored in biology and ecology. His paintings and sculpture reflect those interests and form a sort of progression. Clean-edged paintings of leaves translate easily into painted wood cut-outs, reminiscent of Matisse’s paper cut-outs, and maintain their graphic quality as they break free of the walls to stand on their own. My hands-down favorite, “Trumpet Pitcher,” is the apotheosis of his vision and skill—a freestanding piece of aluminum, ceramic and black paint. (Cutting the elegant contours and intricate internal shapes with a handheld jigsaw must have taken tremendous skill, not to mention physical exertion.) The conjunction of black form and white open spaces mimics graphic design and heightens the tension between the two-dimensional concept and the three-dimensional realization. An antic and contrasting element is added at the base of the piece in the form of spiky orange ceramic shapes, suggesting both weeds and cow udders.
What qualities, in spite of the obvious differences, make their work consonant with each other and appealing to architects? Both artists’ work has a simplicity—“not overloaded” is how Kuzmickas put it. They both use segmentation (diptych and serial images) that echoes architectural verticals and horizontals. Fulmer’s “Philodendron Persusum” and “Las Vegas Bearpoppy” even mimic a window pane by leaving narrow spaces between the four painted panels. Both artists are meticulous craftsmen. They both relate well to architecture (Kuzmickas has a degree in architecture). His training no doubt helped him design the 8-foot glass columns for the center’s indoor colonnade, which incorporates his photographs of Las Vegas. Fulmer likes to create work that “plays off” the architecture by using the same or similar materials and devices as the architects. The bases of his outdoor columns in Centennial Hills are made of concrete block and textured concrete and, as the dynamic play of light and shadow is an important element in architecture, his sculpted black aluminum bearpoppies (a local endangered species) will sit atop the columns and throw shadows on the building throughout the day, then become almost invisible as the light fades.
Centennial Hills Community Center is the first large project of Las Vegas’ “percent for arts” program, which mandates that a percentage of capital building costs be spent on art. The thrust behind this nationwide movement was an awareness that American cities had become exceedingly ugly. In the beginning, works of art were added as afterthoughts, not integral parts of the design. That’s changed; Fulmer and Kuzmickas assured me that the architects (Luchessi Galati Architects) wanted to integrate art right from the beginning, and the process. I’m looking forward to seeing the art in its intended setting.
Fulmer & Kuzmickas: Paintings, Sculpture & Photography
Through September 23, Reed Whipple Cultural Center Gallery, 821 Las Vegas Blvd. N., 229-1012