In Echo Park many streets rise seemingly straight up at precipitous angles and descend the same way. One could say that this is Los Angeles’ version of Wayne Thiebaud’s San Francisco hills. In fact, if you drive up one of these hills fast enough, you can get all four car wheels airborne and loose complete sight of the road while transitioning the short hill top before crashing down on the other side. This was the place that many early auto manufacturers tested their cars for hill handling.
Why was I terrorizing myself on these Echo Park roller coasters? I was visiting the studio of the artist Nicholette Kominos, who, like Marsha Barron whom I previously reviewed, is another L.A. hidden “gem.” I first saw the art of Nicholette Kominos in a group exhibit at Pasadena’s Offramp Gallery, a unique space owned and operated by the effervescent Jane Chafin, and saw a kinship between the works of both artists.
Barron achieves her results with a rich palette of colors and organic like forms while Kominos does so with a limited color palette, sharp value changes, and essentially geometric forms; yet both contain delicate lines and shapes that end up presenting a bold effect, and both artists are masters at visual placement.
Originally a psychology major at the Southern Illinois University, Kominos had been contemplating becoming a writer until she had a notion– call it an epiphany– to turn instead to art. When one views her works, often on vellum because she loves its unique transparency, it’s not difficult to see that her change from writing to creating art made sense for her. She has created a personally-invented visual language, dynamically placed on parchment like surfaces as if they were a substitution for a written language. These various rhythmic forms float in large negative spaces, often reminding me of musical scores on lined paper. But for Kominos, art offered an added bonus that writing did not, physicality. She emphasizes this by constantly manipulating her surface; she may crinkle it, tear it, and even leave thumbprints on it.
Kominos relishes the isolated nature of doing art. She claims she is rather on the shy side (deceptive when one listens to how clearly she articulates on varied subjects) and that the solitary activity allows her to undergo an unrushed process of stepping back and analyzing all that has been over-stimulating in her life.
But why do most of the things in her paintings float in a sea of white? Her entire studio is painted white, with a white work even hanging on one of the white walls. Brancusi once wrote that “Simplicity is not an end in art, but one arrives at simplicity in spite of oneself, in approaching the real sense of things…” And so it is for Kominos and her art, simplicity is for her a way to “emphasize.” White is also a color that represents the “mysterious” for her; it is no accident that the minimalist painter Agnes Martin informs her work.
Some might see Zen in her works but for Kominos her art has nothing to do with that world. She is fascinated with the self-analytical process and history of the psychoanalytical tradition. That is what drives her art, as she stated, “…the elements floating in this space represent the dwellings of the piles of little things that preoccupy our lives,” and the white is a “tabula rasa” for activating her psychological thoughts.
Often there is a simple dividing line separating the white area. She does this purposefully to create a sort of left mind, right mind hemispheric division. But to Kominos, they’re not really separated but work together simultaneously where the viewer can gaze on two or more things occurring at the same moment in time. Divisions in her art represent the multiple divisions within us, the entire constant small conflicts occurring in our lives. In the artist’s own words, she “…combines the intellectual, the emotional and the physical.”
Living in this amniotic environment are a variety of loose representations of objects or simple lines, grids, squares, and other such things. One of her series revolves around the integration of a single spoon on each picture, something that would not seem foreign to Eva Hesse, another artist who strongly informs her work. As in Hesse’s work, objects in Kaminos’ spaces really move, nothing is static and nothing is linear. Lines mutate through other forms, like squiggly lines or a lined square where the filled-in color doesn’t quite fit.
Personally, I would be content to simply enjoy her paintings on a visceral level, reveling in their marvelously achieved ambiguities without reference to a codebook. But her symbolic representations about confronting and resolving the multiple problems of life simultaneously within our two hemispheric lobes must be working, because I see no dangling parts in her art, she really produces the stuff of gestalt.