Lost and found

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Kent Latimer emailed me recently and asked me to come preview his new work, debuting this Friday in an exhibition in his loft home gallery. (See Latimer’s nicely-done website for more images and biographical information)

I had seen — and liked — the artist’s found object sculptures previously at SPECTOR and later at the Painted Bride, but that was a while ago and I was curious about what the artist was up to.

“Schoolboys” (pictured top) which I saw in 1999 in “More is More” at SPECTOR, made a kind of inspired poetic use of the discarded materials — in this case the writing arms from school chairs. You can’t get the scale in this picture but the work is very large, and the paddle-like planks come together as just about perfect figure-widgets, which is about what school children are.

The work made me laugh and filled me with awe at the simplicity and rightness of it all.

What Latimer showed at the Bride in 2000 had moved slightly into the land of wordplay coupled with found objects. In “Anagram #1,” (not shown) a scavenged police barricade (blue and yellow sawhorse and cross bar with the words “POLICE LIMIT” stencilled on) was transformed by wordplay into a barricade that said “ILLICIT POEM.” (images top and right are new work — “Untitled” 2003 — a baby’s crib held up by plastic bowling pins)

Latimer told me he had been travelling around the country for a while, making art and having success showing it in places like Chicago. He told me that he was affected by the September 11 attacks, which on the one hand made everything seem transitory and hopeless and on the other freed him from the impulse to hold back. If the world could end tomorrow what have you got to lose in trying to make a piece of art?

The artist, 38, who grew up in North Carolina and speaks with a hint of that upbringing, said he was hoping to make a gallery connection in Philadelphia where he’s lived for eight years.

Latimer lives in a vast second-floor space on the 1300 block of Walnut. Part of the space is bed-sheeted off as a kind of art gallery. Whitewashed floor boards, whitewashed walls and sheets where there were no walls — it was a believable, in fact a pretty great space to show art. And while the loft was crammed to the gills elsewhere with discards and whatnots — occupational hazards of the trade — the living/working/exhibiting space, which ran the entire length of the building, reminded me of Basekamp‘s vast second floor space on Chestnut St. (image right is new work, “None of your business”)



Latimer’s work reflects a comfort level with words and objects that comes of time spent with people who value words and have a wry sense of humor. He told me he played Scrabble a lot as a child and that his father did a lot of those word scrambler games.

He also writes some poetry and confessed that he’s persnickity about which objects he uses and when. In fact, I buy that. While people tend to think of found object sculpture as “easy” or something tossed together quickly. The best work — like this — shows great restraint. It may look effortless but chances are, it’s been thought through every which way — mixed and matched — until just the right relationship comes together to tell a tale or at least suggest one.

Right now, Latimer is mining greeting tags, those “Hello My name is” sticky-backed things, and by cutting them up, and changing the letters around he’s made a series of works that turn “hello” into a number of new things. “None of your business” transforms a pinata of a burro into a “hell”-papered object (hello minus the o). Under the burro is the pile of “o’s.” sitting like a pool of pee? or small mouths open to receive candy? (image above right)

Other uses of the stickers show up in a grid formation of stick-like objects. The grid of objects and words felt like subversive parodies of flash cards from the international symbol-granting cartel. On the other hand, a piece with a blue cloud, sticks of rain and a wave suggests a a Japanese print done by a computer. (images right and left)

The artist gets many of his materials from dumpsters, or from the street. He’s got one piece that uses a discarded bullet-proof vest he found in a dumpster outside City Hall.

My favorite is a pink flamingo-esque creature made from discarded styrofoam store display numbers. (image left)

I liked its evocation of the LOVE sculpture. Latimer said he’d love to see it cast in all its pinkness in a monumental scale. I think it’d look great in front of City Hall.

Latimer’s two week exhibit Open Studio is at 1318 Walnut St. The opening is Friday, April 30, 6 pm-9 pm. Closing reception is Sat. May 15, 2 pm-6 pm. You can also see the work by appointment. Call 215-284-0705.

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