Kimber Berry’s It’s All Superficial, at Alan Avery Art Company through October 8, suggests flatness in both style and content. An abstractionist, Berry uses vibrant color, dense pattern and expressive marks to create. Yet, as the old adage tells us, things are not always what they seem.
Berry’s canvases have a textural quality almost reminiscent of low relief. She uses an array of paint, some of it cheaper stuff used in industry and craft. Her process seems akin to collage: painterly marks appear cut out and applied in careful layers, suggesting a more rigorous method than the gestural abstractions initially suggest. Worked into the layers of paint are shapes — flowers, birds and abstract forms — cut out of paper. At times, this process creates pleasing juxtapositions; at others, it seems to stilt the fluid and seeming spontaneity of her opulent surfaces.
Berry titles her work with witty and entertaining names, drawing out implicit connotations. An analogous palette of hot pink, crimson red and fiery orange dominates Sometimes Life Just Requires the Help of a Psycho Girlfriend. Gold, violet and blue play secondary parts. The combination is brash and fun, playing up the title’s witty appropriation of a derogatory, misogynistic term. Similarly, Living on the Edge of Reason suggests out-of-control excess and bacchic abandon. Passages of dense abstraction recall explosion bombs, over-the-top bouquets and undulating coils of intestines. These more exuberant passages play off of quieter, more controlled areas of spindly birdlike creatures and highly regularized doily-like patterns.
Berry’s work blurs the line between painting and installation, extending into the surrounding environment. All Jacked Up on Sugar Pops (2017) spawns like sugar-fueled organic growth. Squiggly paint marks and patterns climb up the walls and into corners and onto the floor, subtly evoking Lynda Benglis’ reactions to the machismo of minimalism, poured paintings of the 1960s. Throughout, but perhaps most evident in her installation work, Berry suggests nature’s excess. Yet, her busy, colorful style draws from another source, her upbringing in LA. It’s easy to see the influence of the city’s glitz and signage sprawling against the backdrop of the wild Pacific. The pairing of urban artifice and sublime nature seems to be a constant in Berry’s body of work.
Ultimately, it seems that Berry’s saccharine charm has an edge; her campaigning of superficiality reads as meaningful. Even her use of lowbrow craft and industrial paint seems pointed. Berry’s focus on decorative aspects — namely, pattern and color — connects her to other feminist predecessors like Miriam Schapiro, who thoughtfully reclaimed the disparaged media and characteristics long undervalued in Western art history because of its association with femininity. Indeed, there are strong feminist undertones throughout Berry’s exhibition, but they remain just under the surface.