Kevin Bourgeois: The Drawing’s Advocate
by Abby Hertz
Undoubtedly one of the most skilled living artists working in graphite, Kevin Bourgeois takes the challenging medium and expands its boundaries in ways that invite inspection, contemplation, and interrogation. Through an almost painterly application of pencil on paper, Bourgeois experiments with both form and content, linking the complicated visual field with the equally complex subject matter. The successful combination of socio-political messages with a formal technique and aesthetically appealing product transgresses the association of socially explorative art with messiness and the lack of pleasure.
A natural born dreamer and analytical thinker, Bourgeois received little technical training or formal education, learning the majority of his craft through trial and error and the base of his critical knowledge through an addictive use of his library card. The writings of Hakim Bey, Jean Baudrillard, Allen Ginsberg, and Arthur Rimbaud frequently appear in the background of his drawings, and also serve as a major influence in his subject matter. Bourgeois can be said to have ascertained an unpretentious appreciation of the profound, as his work is intellectual without being overly academic, definitive without being dogmatic, and always displays a keen curiosity in what dwells beneath the surface.
An underlying theme of contrast defines the essence of Bourgeois’ exhaustively detailed drawings. The polarities of the sentimental and the cerebral, science and spirituality, poetics and politics, combine with the contrast-heavy application of the black and white graphite medium. The artist’s body of work centralizes around the juxtapositions of technology versus human nature, individuality versus consumer culture, and superficiality versus altruism. Bourgeois’ art constantly grapples with the human experience of the often emotionally sterile and multi-layered complications of contemporary existence.
One drawing can contain boundless references, counterintuitive symbolizations, and a multitude of emotions. It is in this muddle of meaning that one may see a reflection of personal experience. Even though the content contains tangible messages, it retains enough ambiguity so that the viewer can determine their own conclusions.
Over the past decade and half, Bourgeois’ work has gradually transitioned from figure-based to a more abstracted, flat, and illustrative style that incorporates photorealistic rendering with a collage aesthetic. A collector of images, the artist frequently samples from photographs in magazines, illustrations in text books and comics, and a vast array of advertising media. Reoccurring imagery includes anime characters, 1950’s style American cartoons, corporate logos, and medical diagrams which are layered with startlingly life-like male, female, and sexually androgynous figures.
In his most recent drawings, Bourgeois explores the disconnect between surface and reality with an intense fragmentation of forms. In Unsound Method (2006) a group of realistically rendered male doctors intermingle with the overlay of a stark, solid black outline that is loosely recognizable as a screaming female cartoon. Symbols and logos are drawn on top of these figures adding to the abrupt shift between realism and abstraction that occurs more frequently in the artist’s latest work.
Bourgeois probes the relationship between love and sacrifice, constriction and freedom, mind and heart. How safe is deep? Can one travel the line that faintly defines each world from the next, the barrier that can protect just as it restricts? The art of Kevin Bourgeois makes a valid attempt by both defying gravity and embracing the fall.