The idea for Patrick Kikut's latest exhibit, Manifestdestination, came in atypical fashion for the Wyoming-based artist and teacher. While leading a class of students through drawings at Teton Lodge in Jackson Hole, he momentarily looked away from Mount Moran and noticed all the tourists also standing in observation of the mountains. Instead of the natural landscape, Kikut began focusing on the people looking at the landscape as the subjects for his drawings. After the class, he continued with the theme of "subject engaged in looking," scoping out places like galleries where he could illustrate people in the act of viewing art.
The oil paintings of Manifestdestination are devised from gesture paintings, a technique often used in drawing classes as a warm-up that requires making quick rapid strokes that capture action and movement. They are also inspired by Kikut's love of music, and he sees the project as one "epic" pop song. In fact, the body of work feels like a kind of visual art version of a road movie, and in that way you can imagine that the colors and characters of the paintings provide not only the imagery but the soundtrack as well.
Even though he isn't a musician or songwriter himself, music, landscapes and drawing have always been intimately part of Kikut's life. When he was a boy, his parents bought a Volkswagen van in 1974 and used it to take road trips from Southern California to Mexico, Arizona, the Mojave Desert and the Sierra Nevadas. Kikut and his brother rode in the back, absorbing the scenery and rendering their impressions to paper via a steady supply of art materials.
"At that time," Kikut says, "[during] a lot of those trips that we took, the songs that my folks were playing were some of those big Bob Dylan songs from, like, Blood on the Tracks and another album called Desire. Kind of epic, romantic songs that I never got to the bottom of."
In 1987 he left California behind, earning a bachelor's from the University of Colorado and a master's from the University of Montana. Over the years he has traveled widely across the West, and these trips have formed the backbone of his earlier work. Research for painting landscapes turned into expeditions requiring camping gear and maps, whether it was an exploration of the High Plains or mining in Nevada. Manifestdestination, he says, required none of this. His subjects were all around him.
"After I'd done all these gesture drawings they became characters in this song I was writing," Kikut says, "From there I [incorporated] other images of the West, like cactus and nuclear explosions."
Kikut wanted to ground some of his work in more traditional Western art, so he borrowed figures from the paintings of Frederic Remington and Charlie Russell. He dug through their pieces, searching for examples of people looking out into the landscape. He found plenty, but in the classic Old West style they were all carrying guns. That aspect fit perfectly for Kikut as he considered contemporary discussions surrounding gun debates; the armed silhouettes became mysterious characters added to his landscapes.
Whether or not Manifestdestination looks like a Western pop song will be for the viewer to decide. Either way, like a good lyrical turn, Kikut takes those regional tropes and spins them in subtle ways.
"I prefer art that asks questions," Kikut says, "and a lot of that stuff doesn't ask any questions. It is telling you something. It is telling you to look at this magnificent trophy animal. It isn't raising any questions in your mind about the loss of that animal's habitat, for example. I hope my art raises a few questions for whoever looks at it."
Manifestdestination opens at The Brink Gallery for First Friday Dec. 6, with a reception from 5 to 8 PM. Free.