Imagine We Got Everything We Ever Wanted: How Kate Klingbeil's "Pith" Retells Loss & Longing

Hashimoto Contemporary
Jul 26, 2018 12:01AM

Kate Klingbeil’s solo show of new sculpture and painting works, Pith, contains all the multitudes and complexities of life with chronic illness.

The artist, pictured in front of her "Paint People"

Diagnosed at age 14 with Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disease which attacks the thyroid gland, Klingbeil’s practice mirrors her daily experience. Brightly colored representations of sexuality, femininity, body image, and food are punctuated by inescapable reminders of what it means to cope with illness amid the beauty and unpredictability of everyday life.

Installation  of Pith, on view at Hashimoto Contemporary, July 2018

Pith feels, appropriately, not unlike a fever dream. Landscapes composed of impossible shapes and colors, eyeballs gushing water, bodies recumbent, rejoicing, dancing, recuperating… all intermingle with the mundanity of everyday objects, with realities and schedules, medical cards and prescriptions. What is real? What is imagined? What is felt?

Kate Klingbeil, "Remission"

The brilliance of Pith occurs in these contradictions. In Klingbeil’s works, representation becomes abstraction, observation becomes speculation, and painting becomes sculpture. Through a unique formal and material approach, Klingbeil examines the tenuous tie that both separates and binds fragility to fortitude, sickness to health, and opts not to sever it; instead, she effortlessly intertwines two opposing truths. A butterfly breaks with the edge of a canvas, a figure composed solely of swirled, frosting-like paint flattens itself against the white of the gallery wall. What appears precarious is made resilient, what is heavy contains an unexpected lightness.

Detail of Kate Klingbeil, "Armour"

It is the invisible weight of illness and desire that is celebrated, even released by Pith. A partially clad ceramic figure pores over a porcelain notebook across which two scrawled two nude lovers, lunging toward each other. The word “YOU” is scribbled in girlish handwriting on the next page. Nearby another notebook rests on its binding, doodles of hearts and flowers dot the page on which a female figure sensually gropes a roll with one hand, the other reaching a baguette to her open mouth. On the same page, “I want to be able to have more energy so I can do more of what I am meant to do.”

Install of Pith, on view at Hashimoto Contemporary during July 2018

This psychic state of longing and suspension is echoed throughout Pith. “To Feel Twice,” a small work on canvas, depicts two nude figures (perhaps the same seen embracing on a porcelain page,) running toward one another, arms outstretched. Overlaid in her signature relief style in pink acrylic, the wistful face of a woman. This theme of wondering appears again in “Will We Always Feel This Way Together?” In the landscape of illness and desire, it seems no finite answers are available, that there can be no lasting positive outcome.

Kate Klingbeil, "To Feel Twice"

Yet despite the considerable weight of the subject matter, Klingbeil’s work submits an alternate ending, one in which abundance is not only possible, but happening all the time. Perhaps the exhibition’s most successful work, “Remission” depicts a thriving, Boschian dreamscape in which female figures recline, marveling at butterflies, swim in crystal colored water alongside friendly horses, and stretch their legs in red stilettos.

Kate Klingbeil, "Sketchbook"

Written halfway down a page of Klingbeil's porcelain sketchbook in dainty cursive letters, the viewer can make out the following text: “My body doesn't have to be a burden.” It is this almost negligible detail that seems to serve as the central theme of the exhibition. In acknowledging the desire inherent to a life with chronic illness, Kate Klingbeil successfully sheds its limitations. What results is a thorough examination and celebration of what is present, what is possible, and what might happen if we finally got everything we ever wanted.

Kate Klingbeil's Pith is on view at Hashimoto Contemporary in San Francisco until May 26, 2018.

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-Kaly Scheller-Barrett

Hashimoto Contemporary