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David Joel Kitcher: Cabin Fever
April 3, 2021 - May 9, 2021Free
Ampersand is pleased to present Cabin Fever, a debut exhibition of oil transfer drawings by Portland artist David Joel Kitcher. The featured works represent an outpouring of creative energy imbued by the initial days and weeks of the pandemic and the collective sense of distress in the months that have followed. Anxiety over rent, the fear of not having money for groceries, uncertainty amid the ambiguity of a strange new reality—emotions that Kitcher eventually channeled into a state of deep focus and discovery. The loss of his job meant endless hours in the studio, but he recalls frustration over the first results. “I was trying to make these little intricate gouache paintings. Over and over, looking for that type of work to give me some sense of relief or peace of mind. Forcing it to say something it wasn’t. I was so full of anxiety and that kind of neat, delicate perfectionism was never going to work. I needed to loosen up and let go. That’s when the good stuff started happening.” Magic, as he describes it, came in the form of simple graphite rubbings he started making while out on morning walks with his wife, Sara. Taking cues from frottage pioneers like Paul Klee and Max Ernst, Kitcher started experimenting with anything and everything he could find around his house that made an interesting mark. “It was exhilarating and freeing,” he says. “The studio was full of random objects and weird drawings with these wild compositions and shapes I had never thought possible.” As the drawings became more figurative with mask-like heads and faces, he shifted to oil transfer, a technique more akin to straight drawing. He was seduced by the beautiful smokey mark that the transfer process leaves on paper, often colored by a wash of Flashe paint and sometimes embellished with china marker, ink and charcoal. Heads and faces with weird hairlines, uneven beards and crooked, crazy teeth. Eyes that are distorted, blacked out or missing (like his own left eye, which he lost in an accident at age 17). And we also see intricately patterned COVID masks. “Death, fear, anxiety, droplets, fever, eyes, flags, shipwrecks, loneliness, self grooming, claustrophobia, teeth, wolves, owls, snakes.” He speaks of these elements in the context of story telling—his story and our own. A type of imagery he has never made before, but one that flowed out of him naturally, without direction. Looking at all 89 drawings on the gallery wall, you get lost in the details of an epic tale. His characters seem familiar, but are not exactly from this world. They are the stuff of an old front porch blues song, a line or two out of Melville, lost tales told by timbermen before all the trees were cut down, a tattooed arm at the turn of the century. The folk classics of our American psyche filtered through a new era of truncated media technology, a restless dream, our latest bout of cabin fever.
David Joel Kitcher lives and works in Portland, Oregon. He studied drawing and printmaking at Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA and received a degree in graphic design from Seattle Central Creative Academy. This is his first solo exhibition with the gallery.